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The uva ursi plant is a low-lying evergreen bush whose berries are a favorite of bears, hence the name "bearberry." However, it is the leaves that are used medicinally.
Uva ursi has a long history of use for treating urinary conditions in both America and Europe. Up until the development of sulfa antibiotics, its principal active component, arbutin, was frequently prescribed as a urinary antiseptic.
There are significant safety concerns with uva ursi. The arbutin contained in uva ursi leaves is broken down in the intestine to another chemical, hydroquinone. This is altered a bit by the liver and then sent to the kidneys for excretion. 1 Hydroquinone then acts as an antiseptic in the bladder. Unfortunately, hydroquinone is also a liver toxin, carcinogen, and irritant. 2 3 4 For this reason, uva ursi is not recommended for long-term use. In addition, it should not be taken by young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease.