This section is from the book "A Treatise On Therapeutics, And Pharmacology Or Materia Medica Vol1", by George B. Wood. Also available from Amazon: Part 1 and Part 2.
Origin and Properties. Uva ursi consists of the leaves of Arcto-staphylos Uva Ursi, or bearberry, a low evergreen shrub, growing in the northern parts of Asia, Europe, and America, and extending in the United States as far south as New Jersey, where it is found abundantly. The leaves are from half an inch to an inch long, somewhat wedge-shaped, thick and coriaceous, with a smooth rounded margin; on the upper surface smooth, shining, and brownish-green, on the lower lighter coloured and reticulated; inodorous when fresh, of a hay-like smell when dried, and of a strongly astringent, bitterish, and ultimately sweetish taste. Water and officinal alcohol extract all their virtues.
These are tannic acid of the kind found in galls, gallic acid, a bitter substance, and, according to Mr. Hughes, a peculiar crystallizable principle called by him ursin, which he found diuretic in the dose of a grain. (Am. Journ. of Pharm., xix. 90.) Two other crystallizable principles, denominated by their discoverers respectively arbutin and ursone, have been detected in the leaves; but, as they have not been proved to possess active properties, they cannot be considered of much importance. (See U. S. Dispensatory).
The incompatibilities of uva ursi are essentially the same as those of galls.
Uva ursi is astringent and gently tonic, with the property of slightly increasing the secretion of urine, and at the same time altering its colour. Its astringent principle is said to have been detected in the urine; but it was probably the gallic acid. In overdoses it is apt to produce nausea and vomiting.
This medicine is probably capable of producing, in a greater or less degree, all the effects of the vegetable astringents, but is less powerful than most of those already described. Towards the close of the last, and at the beginning of the present century, it was very highly esteemed and much employed in various affections of the urinary and genital apparatus, and even acquired some reputation in pulmonary consumption, which, however, it soon lost. It was used in chronic inflammation and ulceration of the kidneys, gravel, diabetes, cystirrhcea, strangury and bloody urine, paralysis of the bladder, incontinence of urine, leucorrhoea, and menorrhagia; and was believed by many, if not to dissolve stone in the bladder, at least greatly to relieve the symptoms of that affection. That its virtues were overestimated there can be no doubt; but, in the natural reaction which has followed, it has appeared to me that the credit which it now enjoys is scarcely equal to its merits. The circumstance that it changes the character of the urine would seem to show, that some one or more of its constituents passes out with that fluid; and it is not improbable that it thus directly exercises an astringent, somewhat corroborant, and perhaps alterative effect upon the surface of the mucous membrane, lining the pelvis of the kidney, the ureter, and the bladder. Experience has, I think, shown that it possesses this power; and it is probably to this alone that it owes any peculiar therapeutic efficacy which it may possess. No one now believes that it is capable of materially modifying the symptoms of stone in the bladder, in any other way than by invigorating the kidneys when relaxed or debilitated, or by relieving the attendant inflammation of the urinary passages; and any efficacy which it may possess in gravel must be ascribed to the same cause. It should not be employed in acute inflammation of these organs, as its excitant property, under such circumstances, could prove only injurious; but in chronic affections, when the membrane is relaxed, when atonic ulceration may be suspected, and the urine is loaded with pus or mucus in excess, it may be used with great propriety, and with reasonable hope of advantage.
The complaints in which it has proved most efficacious, in my experience, are chronic inflammation of the pelvis of the kidney with purulent impregnation of the urine, and the similar affection of the bladder, known as catarrh of that organ, or cystirrhoea. In cases of this kind, persevered in for a long time continuously, for several months if necessary, I believe that it will occasionally effect cures even unaided, and will often prove a serviceable adjuvant to other measures. Though apparently indicated in atonic haematuria, I have not found it equally efficacious. It sometimes appears to do good in spermatorrhoea, probably by an invigorating effect upon the mucous membrane at the neck of the bladder, or origin of the urethra; and, by a similar influence, extended sympathetically to the sphincter, it is occasionally useful in nocturnal incontinence, though it must be confessed that it much more frequently fails.
The dose of the powdered leaves is from a scruple to a drachm; but the Decoction (Decoctum Uae Ursi, U. S), made in the proportion of an ounce of the leaves to a pint of water, is a more eligible preparation. It may be given in the dose of one or two fluidounces, three or four times daily. A fluid extract (Extractum Uvae Ursi Flu-idum, U. S.) is directed by our officinal code, the dose of which is from thirty minims to a fluidrachm.