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Herbs for Urinary Tract and Bladder Infections

Bladder infection, also known as cystitis, is characterized by an urgent need “to go” and a burning sensation while urinating. Pain is typically localized to the pelvic region, but may also extend to the lower back (or rectum in men). Symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) are similar except that there is pain at the flank, or the side and lower back. There is usually no fever involved in either condition, although a high fever accompanied by nausea and chills may occur if the infection affects the kidneys.

The goal of treatment is to target the bacteria responsible for the infection, which is most often Escherichia coli (E. coli). Given the short distances between anus, urethra and bladder, it’s easy to understand why women are most commonly impacted by infections of the urinary tract and bladder.

Another consideration that went into the formula that follows is the selection of herbs with high mucilage content to help soothe irritated tissue. At the same time, herbs like uva ursi that contain astringent tannins help to counter infection and inflammation by tightening membranes.

For many people, it’s customary to drink cranberry juice while a UTI is present -- this is fine as long as it doesn’t contain added sugar (read those labels!). Also, even though the overuse of pharmaceutical antibiotics has contributed to the emergence of “superbugs,” they do have a place when truly warranted. If after taking this tincture and doing all that you can to create a healthy terrain in your body (like adhering to a healthy diet free of refined sugars and flours) there is no improvement, make an appointment with your physician without delay.

Meet the Herbs

Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi) is a shrub in the cranberry and blueberry family that thrives in harsh environments where most other plants cannot. Because the sour berries are a favorite snack for bears, the herb is commonly known as bearberry in North America. In fact, the common name for the plant, “uva ursi,” translates to “bear grape” in Latin.

For centuries, the dried leaves of uva ursi have been used throughout the Northern Hemisphere to produce tinctures, extracts and tonics to increase urine flow and counter cystitis. Before the advent of modern sulfa drugs and other antibiotics, uva ursi extracts were the standard treatment for UTI and bladder infections. Today, the herb is still considered one of the best botanical antiseptic and anti-inflammatory therapies for the urinary tract.

A little goes a long way when it comes to this herb. Uva ursi contains three compounds that are responsible for its antiseptic and astringent effects – arbutin, allantoin and hydroquinone. The latter, however, can cause liver damage if the herb is taken at high doses or long-term.

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) is a flowering plant that is naturally distributed throughout Europe, western Asia and northeastern North America. At one time the root of this plant supplied the gooey material that was transformed into the confection of the same name, which has sadly been replaced by cheaper and inferior artificial substances. However, the herb is still celebrated by herbalists as an excellent source of natural mucilage with which to calm inflamed mucous membranes.

Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium) is an herb specific to the American Pacific Northwest that is readily recognized by its hanging clusters of grape-like but unpalatable fruits. In addition to the presence of astringent tannins, the root of the plant contains a number of compounds with strong antiviral and antibacterial properties. Of particular interest is berberine, a chemical that provides antibiotic effects that also inhibits the activity of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Nettle, aka stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), has a long history of use in treating eczema, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. In Germany, the herb is commonly used to treat gout, arthritis, and infections of the bladder, kidneys and urinary tract. Anti-inflammatory compounds in the plant work in the same way that biologics and other drugs prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis do; they block a signaling protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) that’s involved in systemic inflammation.

Herbal Capsule Formula for UTI and Bladder Infections

This recipe is given in parts so that you can make a larger match for storage or a small batch for immediate use. A “part” is whatever you want it to be – 1/2 cup, for example. In this case, 2 parts would then be 1 cup.

2 parts uva ursi leaf powder

1 part marshmallow root powder

1 part Oregon grape root powder

1 part nettle lea powder

You will also need:

Follow the simple directions with the capsule machine to fill the empty capsules. Store the capsules in a sealed container in a cool, dark place. During an active infection, take 2 capsules with water or juice every 4 hours for 3 days. Take 2 days off, then continue for another round of 3 days. If there is no improvement after the first three days or if symptoms worsen, discontinue use and call your doctor.

by Karyn Maier

Updated 2/21/24

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