Life awaits beyond the beaten path
Ericaceae – Heath family
Small, woody, procumbent, evergreen. this plant typically grows in dense clusters, and is often mistaken by novice foragers for wintergreen. Although once you are familiar with both plants, it is easy to tell them apart. The leaves of Uva Ursi are much smaller than those of wintergreen.
This procumbent plant is typically 2 - 6" tall.
The broad evergreen leaves are approximately 1/2 inch wide and 1 inch long. Each leaf is a dark shiny green on top with a pale light green underside. Individual leaves have a rounded end which tapers back to the stem; this gives them a teardrop shape. They are arranged alternately along the stem, and feel thick and stiff, almost leathery. In fall, the leaves change from a dark green to a reddish-green to purple.
Erect branching twigs emerge from long, flexible, woody, prostrate, stems are produced by single roots. The trailing stems will layer, sending out small roots periodically. If the plant is growing in full sun, the newer stems may be red in color; if however the plant is growing in shade the stem will be green. Younger stems are pubescent, meaning they are covered with a fine velvet. The color of the young stems is white to pale green. As the plant ages the stems will become smooth and the color turns to a reddish brown. The stems of the oldest plants will become brown.
Singular roots produce each woody stem. Longer trailing stems will periodically produce small additional roots. This gives the plant a layered appearance.
Spring, May - June
The perfect terminal clusters of small urn-shaped flowers are white to pink, and bear round, fleshy or mealy, bright red to pink fruits called drupes. This smooth, glossy skinned fruit will range from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter. The fruit will persist on the plant into early winter. Each drupe contains 1 to 5 hard seeds, which need to be scarified and stratified prior to germination to reduce the seed coat and break embryo dormancy. There is an average of 40,900 cleaned seeds per pound.
Small, round, mealy, bright red to pink fruits called drupes replace the flowers of spring. This smooth, glossy skinned fruit will range from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, and will persist on the plant into early winter. Some fruit not eaten by woodland creatures will remain until the following spring. These drupes will be the most palatable as they will absorb moisture from the snow. Each drupe contains 1 to 5 hard seeds.
The common name Kinnikinnick is and Algonquian word meaning mixture and refers to the fact that when mixed with other plants it was widely used for smoking.
Classified as circumpolar, meaning it tends to congregate around the poles; this plant is widespread in the moist fertile soils of northern latitudes. Its growth in lower latitudes is limited to higher altitudes.
Wild Food Uses:
While the leaves and berries are technically edible, I do not find either palatable. There are many more delicious choices available in the same areas.
The following text is meant for informational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness or injury. Always consult with a physician or other qualified medical care provider concerning the diagnosis and treatment of any illness or injury.
This plant shines medicinally. It is wonderfully antimicrobial, mildly diuretic, and strongly astringent. It has been used for urinary tract complaints, including cystitis and urolithiasis. An infusion may be made by soaking the leaves in ethanol and then diluting with water. Before the introduction of sulfa drugs and modern antibiotics, Uva Ursi was among the few herbal drugs with antibacterial properties.