Arbutus, Trailing

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Arbutus, Trailing

Botanical Name: Epigaea repens (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Ericaceae

Synonyms: Mountain Pink. May Flower. Gravel Plant. Ground Laurel. Winter Pink.
Part Used: The leaves, used dried to make an infusion, and fresh to make a tincture.
Habitat: The Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens, Linn.) is a small evergreen creeping shrub, found in sandy soil in many parts of North America, in the shade of pines. Its natural home is under trees, and it will thrive in this country only in moist, sandy peat in shady places. It has long been known in cultivation here as an ornamental plant, having been introduced into Great Britain in 1736. Like the common Arbutus, or the Strawberry Tree and the Bearberry, it belongs to the order Ericacece, the family of the heaths.

Description: It grows but a few inches high, with a trailing, shrubby stalk, which puts out roots at the joints, and when in a proper soil and situation multiplies very fast. The evergreen leaves are stalked, broadly ovate, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, rough and leathery, with entire, wavy margins and a short point at the apex. Branches, leaf-stalks and nerves of the leaves are very hairy. The flowers are produced at the end of the branches in dense clusters. They are white, with a reddish tinge and very fragrant, divided at the top into five acute segments, which spread open in the form of a star. The plant flowers in April and May, but rarely produces fruit in England. It is stated to be injurious to cattle when eaten by them.

The name of the genus, Epigaea, derived from Greek words signifying 'upon the ground,' expresses the mode of growth and trailing habit of the species.

Cultivation: The Trailing Arbutus generally does not do well when attempts are made to take it from its natural surroundings and place it under garden conditions. It needs partial shade and very free soil, composed mainly of decayed leaves, and perfect shelter from cold winds. In short grass, just within the shelter of oak trees, the overhanging boughs of which give a certain amount of shade, it will do well and is usually found at its best in sandy loam, on a gravelly, well-drained subsoil.

In removing it from its native haunts, dense tufts of low-growing and apparently young plants should be selected. These should be lifted intact, and to such a depth, that the roots are not disturbed, and placed in conditions in the home garden exactly similar to those from which they are taken. To plant in an ordinary herbaceous border means failure. They must not be choked out with long grass or coarse weeds. In dry weather water the plants occasionally, and in winter give a little mulching of leaves .

It may be increased by seeds, but they are slow in sprouting. By carefully dividing the well-established tufts in autumn, or by layering the branches, good plants are sometimes obtained. The trailing stalks, which put out roots at the joints, may be cut off from the old plant and placed in a shady situation and a moist soil. If done in autumn, the plants may be well rooted before the spring. Cuttings of previous year's wood are more successful inserted in sandy soil, under a glass in gentle heat in spring. As soon as rooted, plants should be grown on in pots until well established, and then transferred in early autumn, or spring, to their permanent positions outside, but they will never grow so well in the open (where they will always be more or less stunted specimens), as they will under conditions which closely imitate those which the plant enjoys in the woods of New England.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Astringent and diuretic. Used in the same way as Buchu and Uva ursi for bladder and urinary troubles: of special value when the urine contains blood or pus, and when there is irritation.

The infusion of 1 OZ. of the leaves to a pint of boiling water may be taken freely.