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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Kinnikinnick - (Kinny Kin Nick) Say What?

Kinnikinnick - Bear Berry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Arcto is Greek for bear. Staphyle is Greek for bunch of berries or grapes.  For good measure, uva-ursi also means "berry of bear".  Kinnikinnick is a Algonquian (Delaware Indian) word meaning "mixture." Other names include - chipmunk’s apples, mealberry; tinnick, arbutus, red bear’s grape, black bear’s grapes and  alpine bear grapes.
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Watch this short video of Tom from Mountain Men and his need for this plant.


From the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - "Bearberry is a trailing, evergreen shrub with paddle-shaped leaves on flexible branches. The thick, leathery leaves, rolled under at the edges, are yellow-green in spring, dark-green in summer, and reddish-purple in the fall. Nodding clusters of small, bell-shaped, pink or white flowers occur on bright-red stems. Flowers in racemes on short branches. Bright-red berries succeed the flowers and persist into winter. This ground-trailing shrub has the papery, reddish, exfoliating bark typical of woody plants in northern climates."
"Arctostaphylos-uva-ursi" by Sten Porse - Own work. 


Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark described the fruit as mealy and tasteless.  Never-the-less it is a favorite of a large number of animals and birds.  For people the fruit flavor is improved with some simple preparation.  Cooking seems to sweeten the flavor and it can be made into a host of very attractive recipes.


  • Grind the cooked berries in a food mill, sweetening the pulp to taste, and serving as a mock cranberry sauce. 
  • Simmer with honey, cinnamon, and cloves for mock apple sauce. 
  • For a tangy wilderness ‘lemonade’, simmer two cups fruits in two cups water with one–half cup honey for thirty minutes. Let the mixture sit one hour. Then strain, chill, and enjoy.
  • Bearberry Jam - 2 quarts berries, sweeten with sugar, honey, or apples to taste, 3 oz pectin. -- Place washed, ripe berries in a deep saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and mash fruit with potato masher. Force through a strainer or food mill to remove seeds. Retain as much juice and pulp as possible. Measure juice and pulp into saucepan and add sweetener if needed. Mix well and bring to a boil for 1 minute while stirring constantly. Add 3 oz of liquid pectin and mix well. Boil for 1 minute then pour into hot, sterile jelly jars and seal.
    bearberry cooked with apples - photo homemade.sikorka.eu

sealed into reused jars- photo homemade.sikorka.eu 

Bearberry is first documented in ‘The Physicians of Myddfai’ 13th-century Welsh
Herbal. About the same time Marco Polo thought the Chinese were using it as a diuretic.  

Growing this plant in your landscape is a fantastic addition to both your taste choices and backyard medicine cabinet and tool box.  Tool box?  Yes parts of the plant can be used for a dark colored dye historically used to color leather. There are other uses too.  Here is an excerpt from 
Brown’s Song of the Vikings


“Quill pens were cut from swan, goose, or raven feathers (also easily come by in Iceland); left-wing feathers were best for right-handed writers because they bent away from the eye. Ink was made by boiling whole bearberry plants with a clay commonly used to dye wool black. A few shavings of green willow twigs were added to the pot, and the mixture was simmered until it turned sticky. “Let a drop fall onto your fingernail,” says one recipe. “If it remains there like a little ball, then the ink is ready.” A little bit of gum from the first milk of a young ewe or heifer was added to the ink to make it shiny. The result was ink that was black, glossy, and impermeable to water—important to people who often traveled by ship.”

Craig and I have Bearberry Seeds (Kinnikinnick) for sale.  All current offerings are in our jiovi online catalog. 





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