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Arctostaphylos uva-ursi: Kinnikinnick ~
Name: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. Kingdom: Plantae; Angiosperms; Eudicots; Asterids; Order: Ericales; Family: Ericaceae; Genus: Arctostaphylos
Common Name: Bearberry, Kinnikinnick, bear berry, pinemat manzanita, arberry, bear’s grape, crowberry, foxberry, hog cranberry, kinnikinnick, mealberry, mountain box, mountain cranberry, mountain tobacco, sandberry, upland cranberry, uva-ursi
General Description: Because the plant is very much a favorite foodstuff of bears, it has earned the name “bearberry”. This wonderful plant is part of the Manzanita genus Arctostaphylos. It is named after the Latin term uva-ursi or meaning “grape of the bear”. It is a small procumbent woody ground cover shrub that grows between 5-30 cm high, growing evergreen shiny, small, thick, stiff alternating leaves that stay green for 1-3 years before they fall off the bush. The bottom of the leaves are lighter green than the tops. The shrub blossom white to pink flowers from May to June that also bear a red berry fruit measuring 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter that persist on into early winter. The stands of this bush can be extremely dense and hard to get through, though rarely growing taller than 6 inches. The erect branching twigs emerge from long flexible prostrate stems produced by single roots.
Locality/Cultivation: This shrub can be found appearing as one of three species of dwarf shrubs belonging to the genus Arctostaphylos. It is commonly used in gardens as an ornamental. Leaves are harvested during the summer and dried for use in extracts, infusions, teas, and tablets.
Common Uses: Bearberry is edible, but mealy and bland in taste. It is a major ingredient found in the Native American smoke mix called “kinnikinnick” (means “mixture” in Algonquin) and mixed with Tobacco by the First Nations peoples. The berries have been gathered by many people as a food. It is used as an ornamental plant in landscaping and to help control erosion.
Medicinal Uses: It has been identified as having a narcotic or stimulant effect when smoked. The leaves are used in herbal medicine. Some of the constituents within it are hydroquinones that are labelled hepatotoxic. It has been used in urinary tract infections. First labelled in medicinal applications by Gerhard in 1763, and first documented in the Physicians of Myddfai a 13th century herbal. It appeared in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1788. Marco Polo thought the Chinese used it as a diuretic. In Europe the leaves are used as a phytomedicine. While edible, large doses have been said to have caused fever, vomiting, nausea, chills, back pain, and tinnitus. Should be avoided by those pregnant or possessing kidney issues.
Magical Uses: Native Americans smoke it in a cermonial mix called “kinnikinnick” and use it both as a smudge or smoked in a sacred pipe carrying the smoker’s prayers to the Great Spirit. When creating the “kinnikinnick” it is often ixed with non-poisonous sumac, inner bark of red osier dogwood, chokecherry, and alder.
Spirituality: In ceremonies, Native American mixed bearberry with dogwood, chokecherry, and alder into a mix called “Kinnikinnick” that was used spiritually as well as medicinally, and seen by white Euro-American settlers as a narcotic (though sometimes mixed with tobacco and granting that effect). Early colonial European hunters, traders, and settlers used the mix as such too. While Eastern tribes also used it as a smoking mix socially, they did so ceremonially. The Ojibwa smoked it mixed with dried powdered room of Aster novae-angliae L or red willow or spotted willow.
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