Subshrub ID: Red Bearberry

Photo of Red Bearberry

Red Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is an evergreen subshrub of mountaintops, rocky outcrops, grasslands, and sandy sites and grows wild in northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. The shrub's leaves are thick and shiny, about 1" long, and widest near the tip. The sprawling stems are noticeably fuzzy, and, with the use of a hand lens or loupe, fine hairs are also visible on the margins of young leaves.

The term Kinnikinnick -- of Algonquian origin -- refers both to this plant, and to a smoking mixture that often includes Red Bearberry leaves and dried leaves and/or bark of other plants.¹ The shiny red berries contain (typically 5) hard seeds shaped like tiny orange wedges. The dry flesh is edible but mealy and, to my palette, tasteless. Incorporating the fruit in cooked dishes is said to improve their appeal.²

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¹ kinnikinnick. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
² Lee Peterson, A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America (1977), p. 224

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