Arctostaphylos varieties – Manzanita

  • Name: Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pringlei, A. pungens, A. patula, A. uva-ursis, A. glauca, A. manzanita)
  • Also Called: Bearberry, Bigberry
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) (1916) by Mary Vaux Walcott. Original from The Smithsonian.

Distribution and Habitat

Various species grow on dry slopes in Coastal Ranges and Chaparral and is usually found below 5,000 feet elevation in most of California. There are forty-three species of Manzanita throughout California and most of these were used as food sources by natives.

Description of Plant

Manzanita grows in dense thickets 2-4 meters high. It has greyish green leaves that are oval and 2-4.5 centimeters long. It is a large evergreen shrub with crooked branches and a beautiful smooth, mahogany colored bark. Its flowers are white (and sometimes pink) and are urn shaped and 8-9 millimeters long. Manzanita’s fruit is redish-brown when it is ripe.

Manzanita blooms December through March and its fruit appears in Spring.

Manzanita in bloom. This species of Arctostaphylos has white/light pink colored flowers.
Manzanita in bloom. This species of Arctostaphylos has white/light pink colored flowers. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Description of Plant Uses

A. uva-ursis and possibly another variety of manzanita was smoked as the Indian tobacco known as kinnikinick.

Manzanita is Spanish for “Little Apple”. The name is very appropriate as the red berries look like miniature apples. The Spanish settlers were known to pick the fruit of the manzanita while still green and was used to make a soft drink and/or jelly.

The natives of California used this fruit in many ways. It was usually used when red and ripe and collected by beating the shrub to drop the berries into collecting baskets. They were eaten raw or cooked, crushed for beverages and made into jellies.

The pulp is dry and sweet when ripe and was reduced into a fine powder, separated from the seeds and skins, and mixed with water. This concoction would usually stand for a few hours and made into a favorite drink. Ground berries were also steeped in hot water, the flavor resembling that of cider.

Dry seeds were ground into a fine flour and was usually made into a mush. The flour was also sometimes shaped into thin cakes and were baked on top of hot ashes. It was also eaten dry as pinole.

The green fruit has a high acidity but was known as a thirst quencher.

The flowers were steeped for tea.

Berries were also collected in large quantities and dried to be used for winter.

Several of the Indian tribes would celebrate the ripening of the manzanita with a harvest feast and dancing.

The wood was also used by the Cahuilla Indians for utensils and pipes.

Sprouts of Manzanita are commonly seen in areas molested by fire.

Many animals eat the foliage and fruit of the Manzanita. Birds, bears, and other animals are known to eat the ripe berries. Goats and some other animals sometimes eat the plants foliage. It was used as an indicator of wild game including deer, coyotes and mountain sheep. Manzanita also provides shelter for birds and other small animals.

Medicinal Uses of Manzanita

  • Poison Oak: Manzanita berries were made into a tea and applied as a lotion for relief from poison oak.
  • Dropsy, Bronchitis and Colds: A mixture of both the leaves and the berries was used for relief from dropsy, bronchitis and sever colds. Some sources say that this tonic is too strong to be taken internally.
  • Stomach Problems and Weight Loss: A tea was made from the leaves of the Manzanita for stomach relief. It was also used to reduce fat.
  • Rheumatism: A tea was made from the leaves of Manzanita for a bath to aid in Rheumatism.
  • Headache: Manzanita leaves were boiled down into a yellowish-brown extract which was used as a wash to stop certain types of headaches. A tea was also made for the same purpose.
  • Sores: The Concow Indians chewed the leaves of the manzanita and applied the thick pad produced as a poultice on sores.






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