Huckleberry leaves and berries

Many years ago, while visiting Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I happened upon a local herb shop.  While perusing jars of dry herbs, I noticed one that contained huckleberry leaves. In most parts of the country, bulk huckleberry leaves are hardly known well enough to claim any of the limited space in an average herb store. The owner of the Baton Rouge herb shop said they sold quite a lot of huckleberry leaf tea especially to Black clientele, who told her that huckleberry tea was passed down as part of the little known but highly significant healing tradition known as “plantation medicine.” [1]

While huckleberry fruit, also known as whortleberry in North America (closely related to a European species commonly known as bilberry), is usually eaten, the dried leaves are used as a medicinal tea.

Huckleberry leaves act as a diuretic astringent. Understandably, most people are confused by this apparent contradiction in terms. A diuretic herb increases the output (not necessarily the frequency) of urine, while an astringent restricts the flow or leakage of fluids such as frequent urination, diarrhea and hemorrhage. I once had a positive outcome using huckleberry leaves which happened to be growing in abundance near the home of a friend who had for some undetermined reason, severe diarrhea for many days. It only required three cups of huckleberry leaf tea in one day to completely resolve the condition.

Diuretic and astringent properties can exist together in a single herb indicated for certain conditions such as diabetes, where there is a need to prevent frequent urination, as well as excessive thirst. In fact, such herbs can also be used to treat any of the above disorders with or without diabetes.

A Planetary Herbalism Description of Diabetes: Treating Root Cause As Well As Relieving the Symptom

As for diabetes, it was only in recent history that it became a named disease. In 1893, Édouard Laguesse discovered the role of the pancreas in secreting the hormone insulin from the “little heaps of cells” that Paul Langerhans discovered in 1869. This resulted in their being named “islets of Langerhans,” [2] and defined the pancreas as an essential organ for digestion.

There are broadly speaking two types of diabetes: Type 1, which is an auto-immune condition and can develop at any age; and Type 2, which is severe insulin-deficient diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, the more common form, is caused by overeating, especially simple carbs such as refined sugar and white flour. Type 2 diabetes is more of a lifestyle condition and can be remedied by adopting an anti-diabetic diet (complex carbohydrates, high in fiber, rich in chromium, magnesium, zinc and selenium, flavonoid and carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables), regular exercise and proper rest and sleep.

The earliest recorded symptoms of diabetes are the same as today,  frequent urination, thirst and wasting. It was first documented by the Egyptians in 1542 B.C.E., then in India between 400 to 500 BCE,  is described by the Chinese in the Nei Jing  (Yellow Emperor’s Classic),  475- 221 BCE.  Through subsequent generations the traditional Chinese diagnosis of lower wasting disease, xiāo kě was expanded significantly through the Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907) dynasties. Zeng Liyan (545–649) expounded on the diagnosis of modern-day diabetes mellitus through the presence of sugar in the urine (glycosuria). Indian and Arabic medical cultures popularly called it “honey-urine” because of the sweet taste and that ants were particularly attracted to it. [3]

Traditional herbalism focuses less on treating ‘named’ diseases and more on their associated symptoms and underlying conditions. TCM does delineate named diseases but differentiates underlying conditions as ‘patterns’ requiring different treatment approaches. When traditional Chinese theory was formulated, neither the pancreas attached to the spleen nor the adrenals attached to the kidneys were given separate distinction but were simply called Spleen or Kidney. However, the functions ascribed to both of these organs included those generating energy with the TCM Spleen-pancreas coming from the digestion and utilization of carbohydrates and the TCM Kidney-adrenals involving the reserves of hormonal energy supplied and regulated by the adrenals.

“Wasting” in TCM is described as upper, middle and lower wasting described as yin deficiency. Lower wasting typically included diabetes symptoms of dryness, thirst, frequent urination and eventually, wasting. For this reason, the representative formula used to treat diabetes. lower wasting and and yin deficiency is called Liu wei di huang, also known as Rehmannia Six Combination, which consists of the following:

Rehmannia root cured (Rehmannia glutinosa) (Shu Di Huang)
Asiatic dogwood fruit (Cornus officinalis) (Shan Zhu Yu)
Tree peony bark (Paeonia suffruticosa) (Mu Dan Pi)
Chinese yam rhizome (Dioscorea opposita) (Shan Yao)
Poria sclerotium (Poria cocos) (Fu Ling)
Asian water plantain rhizome (Alisma orientale) (Ze Xie)


In Ayurveda many herbs and substances are used to treat diabetes perhaps the most valuable of all is a special mineral tar exuded from rocks in high mountains called shilajit. It is a safe, herbo-mineral exudate that is commonly used in  Ayurvedic medicine and is composed of fulvic acids, dibenzo-α-pyrones, proteins, and minerals. The term “Shilajit” in Sanskrit literally means “the destroyer of weakness.” It works broadly to detoxify the body not least of which is to overcome the symptoms of what TCM would describe as “kidney yin deficiency” with auto consumptive symptoms of wasting associated with a number of diseases including diabetes. [4]

Huckleberry, Blueberry, or Bilberry Leaf and Berry for Diabetes

The Western description of the herbal properties, ‘diuretic-astringent’ happens to fit at least two of the main symptoms of diabetes, which again are thirst, polydipsia (frequent urination) and wasting. Herbs with diuretic-astringent properties may not benefit thirst for which a more demulcent herb should probably be added such as marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) or better yet, Rehmannia glutinosa and/or lycii berries (Go ji berries). Such a combination with huckleberry leaf and huckleberries would make a more immediately effective treatment for diabetes. To some extent actually including a serving of huckleberries or blueberries daily might be considered a good alternative.

Huckleberry leaves and its close cousin, blueberry leaves, have a distinguished reputation of reliably lowering blood sugar. I found that patients with diabetes need only take a tea made from decocting a teaspoon of huckleberry leaves (which I prefer over blueberry leaves) and for many this can lower blood sugar enough so that the person should be warned to closely monitor their sugar levels so they can adjust the dosage of insulin if needed. It is for this reason that diabetic patients considering honeysuckle or blueberry leaf tea should check with their health provider.

Whether huckleberry or blueberry tea taken daily is enough to completely cure type 2 diabetes really depends on whether one implements an anti-diabetic diet and lifestyle. There are many potential side effects associated with injecting insulin not least of which is that fact that the amount needed each day can vary significantly; either too high or too low an amount can result in problems. Some of my patients are satisfied using huckleberry or blueberry leaf tea daily to at least lower their daily intake of insulin. This can prove to be an advantage for those with diabetes.

Huckleberry leaf (which includes a large number of Vaccinium spp and Gaylussacia spp), including the European species known as bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is well known as a diuretic astringent with properties similar to uva ursi, (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) another member of the Ericaceae (heath family), another herb not so thought to be effective for the treatment of diabetes.

Bilberry leaves contain polyphenols, tannins, flavonoids, and a high concentration of chromium, all believed to be beneficial for treating diabetes. They also may lower blood glucose, as well as triglycerides and cholesterol. Two specific constituents, chemicals called glucokinin and neomirtilline, identified in bilberry leaf and are theorized to lower blood glucose. Another reason that supplementing diabetic treatment with either bilberry or blueberry leaves is that they have beneficial flavonoids that can be helpful in preventing inflammation, diabetic neuropathy and other circulatory disorders.

Either huckleberry or blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) leaf can be used to lower blood sugar.

While these leaf teas are generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, it should be avoided by pregnant or lactating women.

While I have extensively used only the leaves, berries of both huckleberry and blueberry also help to regulating blood sugar levels. A typical dose of dried, ripe, berries is 20 to 60 grams daily. They can be prepared as a drink. 5 to 10 grams or 1-2 teaspoons of mashed berries mixed in a cup of cold water, brought to a boil, and allowed to simmer for 10 minutes before straining. My patients simply simmer a teaspoon of the chopped dried leaves in a cup of boiling water 5-10 minutes, strain and take one or two cups daily.  Capsules of the leaf extract are also commercially available in capsules.

The combination of diet and lifestyle modification with the aid of huckleberry/blueberry fruit/leaf should be invaluable in helping to lower insulin dependency and prevent circulatory disorders associated with diabetes.


[1] Slave medicine on Jefferson’s Monticello plantation”   (


[3] ibid



Special thanks to herbalist, David Winston, for reviewing and contributing to this article

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