Manzanita~ March 04 2015

Arctostaphylos spp.   Manzanita   


Manzanita means “little apple” in Spanish.  Her curvy limbs and smooth red bark grant her the title of ‘the sexiest tree in the forest’. The bark is consistently cool to the touch. She is sometimes called “refridgerater tree”, because the trunk is cool even in the height of summer heat. This is an indicator of her yin quality. Cool, smooth, curvy and red. She might as well be a redhead in fishnets. Oh, and she is astringent. Very astringent. Notice her urn shaped flowers? Shaped just like a uterus. Yup, she holds you. She hold you in that tight, puckering astringency. She holds you in that pink fragrant womb. Any wonder that she helps with water retention? Just like a woman she processes and nurtures that which she holds. She is associated with blood by her bark, the urinary tract by her leaves, and reproductive properties by her flowers.   

“Arcto” is Greek meaning ‘bear’ and “staphylos” refers to ‘a bunch of grapes’. Quite literally we are talking about a bear bunches of grapes. Have you ever walked in a manzanita forest and found bear poop? Looks just like ‘little apples’ in there. Uva Ursi is another species of Arctostaphylos that is often referred to as Bearberry. Named after the berries in the bear poop, of course.  Arctostaphylos Uva Ursi is also called Kinnikinnik which is Algonquian for “smoking mixture”. Our local Sierra Foothill manzanita is a California native version of this same smoking mixture. Manzanita leaves need more grinding than uva ursi, but they are just as nice in a pipe blend.

There are over 50 species of Manzanita here in California alone. Our local Giant varieties are not endangered here in the Sierra Foothills. However many other species along the coast and throughout the US are endangered. Here in Nevada County we have 8 species of Manzanita, 6 shrubs species that stand up to 6 feet tall, and 2 tree species that can stand up to 25 feet tall. “Sticky White Leaf Manzanita” (A. viscida – tree, or A. manzanita - shrub) are the most common varieties in Nevada County.

The berries are sweet and delicious. Many of our Nevada County locals today gather the berries dry and crush them into a fine powder making an exquisite sugar substitute that is extremely high in mineral and antioxidant content.   Native foods are rarely as sweet as this one. The berries also make a tart jelly and a traditional cider.  Whatever berries weren’t eaten fresh by native peoples were dried and stored for future use, sometimes they were pounded and added to mush, cakes, or meat.

The wood of manzanita is fire resistant and the root crowns are often used for carving smoking pipes. It is an amazing wood working material. The larger branches have red heartwood with the same deep red as in the bark. 

I love to collect the flowers and store them in honey. There is a deep emotional response to flower remedies of manzanita. I have found this to be useful for relieving sexual trauma and emotional abuse, and in any time which one needs to be held by loving arms. She is a dear sister in that way, holding space for you to let go.    

Manzanita leaves are astringent, cooling, and bitter and can be used in the same way as uva ursi.  An herbal disinfectant used in mild urinary tract infections and kidney inflammations. I have also chewed the leaves to strengthen digestion and relieve stomach ulcers.  The leaves are vasoconstricting to the uterus. Tightening and closing down the blood vessels in a way that will reduce blood flow significantly. I have shortened my own menstrual cycles just by eating the leaves. This makes manzanita an excellent remedy for the heavy duty menstrual bleeder, especially with headaches. Four chopped tablespoons of manzanita leaves steeped in one quart water for about 30 minutes makes both an excellent tea or a douche for such cases of excess menstrual bleeding as well as in after birth care and miscarriage. The tea is a great postpartum sitz bath for healing and tightening tissues. Manzantia contains arbutin which gives the disinfecting quality to urine. The tea as a douche is an easy remedy for vaginal inflammations.  The constriction of blood flow quality of manzanita makes her use contraindicated in pregnancy.

Californians who are around the abundant species of manzanita should be using this local herb.  She is very strong. I find that a few leaves goes a long way. Every flower that you pick will never become a berry, and every berry you pick will never become a new plant. This is the awareness you take when you go to pick the manzanita. I never harvest my flowers and berries from the same sites and recommend you do the same. I always make an offering to the plant, with a prayer to assure the future of the species. Some plant offerings that I use are cornmeal and tobacco, or sunflower seeds- for the birds to come eat and then poop on the plant making fertilizer, a bit of water, or if I have nothing else I offer a strand of my hair.  We are incredibly blessed to live with such a magnificent being here in the Sierra Foothills, the only place where manzanita is abundant enough to harvest. If we are lucky enough to live in California with this plant in our yards, it our duty to use this medicine and keep local sustainable herbalism practices alive.

Thank you Manzanita for your medicine!