Herb: Cowberry

Latin name: Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Family: Ericaceae (Heath Family)

Medicinal use of Cowberry:

The leaves are antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, refrigerant. They are used in the treatment of gonorrhoea, arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes and diarrhoea. The leaves are gathered in early summer and dried for later use. The mature fruits are eaten fresh or dried as a remedy for diarrhoea and as a treatment for sore throats, coughs and colds. The juice has been gargled as a treatment for sore throats.

Description of the plant:


25 cm
(9 3/4 inch)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Sunny mountain meadows, peat moors and pine woods, on acid soils.

Edible parts of Cowberry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Quite pleasant to eat. An acid flavour, they are used like cranberries in preserves and are considered by many people to be superior to cranberries. The taste is better after a frost. Occasionally the plants bear 2 crops in a year. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter. A tea is made from the leaves. This should not be drunk on a regular basis because it contains the toxin "arbutin".

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow dye is obtained from the leaves and stems. A purple dye is obtained from the fruit. Can be grown as a ground cover plant, spreading by underground runners. It needs weeding for the first year or so. Plants are best spaced about 30cm apart each way.

Propagation of Cowberry:

Seed - sow late winter in a greenhouse in a lime-free potting mix and only just cover the seed. Stored seed might require a period of up to 3 months cold stratification. Another report says that it is best to sow the seed in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe. Once they are about 5cm tall, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 8cm with a heel, August in a frame. Slow and difficult. Layering in late summer or early autumn. Another report says that spring is the best time to layer. Takes 18 months. Division of suckers in spring or early autumn.

Cultivation of the herb:

Sunny mountain meadows, peat moors and pine woods, on acid soils.

Known hazards of Vaccinium vitis-idaea:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.