Bearberry is widespread and common in forests throughout the northern United States. The brilliant red berries remain on the plant all winter and provide survival food for bears when they emerge from their long sleep.
However, it was the leaves of the bearberry that were prized by Native Americans for their healing properties. The leaves that were made into a tea contain a powerful astringent that is antiseptic and effective for kidney and bladder ailments.
Many Native Americans also mixed the leaves with other ingredients and smoked them, which lead to its other name, kinnikinnick, which is Algonquian for “mixture”.
The bear is attuned to the feminine energy of the Earth Mother. Every Winter the bear enters the Great Void for its time of renewal, signifying the great power of turning within. The bear is associated with the West in many Native traditions, the direction associated with strength and endurance.
After a long Winter’s sleep, the bear renews its great strength with the help of the little bearberry.