Herb: Downy Manzanita

Latin name: Arctostaphylos tomentosa

Synonyms: Arbutus tomentosa

Family: Ericaceae (Heath Family)

Medicinal use of Downy Manzanita:

The dried leaves are used in the treatment of a variety of complaints. These leaves should be harvested in early autumn, only green leaves being selected, and then dried in gentle heat. A tea made from the dried leaves is strongly astringent, diuretic and an antiseptic for the urinary tract. It is much used for kidney and bladder complaints and inflammation of the urinary tract, but it should be used with caution because it contains arbutin which hydrolyzes into the toxic urinary antiseptic hydroquinone. An infusion of the bark powder has been used in the treatment of lung haemorrhages. A cider made from the fruit has been used as an appetizer to create appetite and treat stomach complaints. Although the report does not specify, the cider was probably unfermented.

Description of the plant:


150 cm
(5 feet)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Sandy places on the edge of Pinus radiata forests and on windy coastal bluffs below 150 metres.

Edible parts of Downy Manzanita:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Sweet, dry and mealy. An important food for native tribes, it can also be dried for winter use. When dried and baked into a bread it is relished by the native Indian tribes. If harvested when not quite ripe, it can be used like a tart apple. A cooling sub-acid drink can be made from the fruit. The fruit is about 8 - 10mm in diameter. Seed - ground into a powder and used to make mush, biscuits etc. The seed is very small and would be difficult to separate from the fruit. It would be easier to dry the whole fruit, grind this into a powder and use it in soups etc.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellowish-brown dye is obtained from the leaves, it does not require a mordant. The wood is used for making fine furniture.

Propagation of Downy Manzanita:

Seed - best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe. Pre-soak dried seed in boiling water for 10 - 20 seconds or burn some straw on top of them and then stratify at 2 - 5C for 2 months. The seed usually germinates in 2 - 3 months at 15C. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame or greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer. Cuttings of side shoots of the current season's growth, 5 - 8cm with a heel, August to December in a frame. The cuttings are very slow and can take a year to root. Division in early spring. Take care because the plant resents root disturbance. Pot the divisions up and keep them in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are growing away actively. Layering in spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Sandy places on the edge of Pinus radiata forests and on windy coastal bluffs below 150 metres.

Known hazards of Arctostaphylos tomentosa:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.