Oregon Grape | Mahonia (Berberis) aquifolium

Family: Berberidaceae

Parts used: Root, Stem & Leaf

Appearance: Oregon grape is a perennial leafy bush, from 2 to 5/6 ft in height, covered in thick, waxy, prickly pinnate leaves. The leaflets are oblong-oval and about 1.5-3 inches long and are shiny dark green on the top and dull underneath. The leaflets are opposite and each stem ends in a single terminal leaflet. The stems are yellow-green and the roots are a brilliant yellow-orange. The flowers form in bright yellow clusters from the end of the stem which bloom from March to May and turn into juicy sweet & sour blue-purple pseudo-grapes with a bitter aftertaste. Oregon grape enjoys growing in the shady undergrowth of the Oregon, Washington and BC forests.

Harvesting: Since Oregon Grape is a perennial plant, It is best to collect the roots and lower stems from mid-summer to winter and the leaves from May through mid-fall. Oregon grape often has an upper stem bark and wood with little to no colour, these should not be used. The washed root and stem should be chopped while still fresh, while the leaves can be placed in a paper bag to dry. Dried leaves, if stored out of any light, will last for up to a year and dried roots and stems will last for several years.

Medicinal Uses: Oregon grape has three main functions: as a bitter tonic for digestion, as a stimulant to the liver and as an antimicrobial for the skin and intestinal tract. As a bitter tonic for digestion, it facilitated the natural secretion of hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and carrier proteins for vitamin transport to help break-down food and aid nutrient absorption. As a liver stimulant, Oregon grape helps to improve impaired liver function by assisting in metabolism and detoxification. Oregon grape contains a potent antimicrobial alkaloid called berberine. Berberine functions similarly to antibiotics as a disinfectant with additional antimicrobial action against pathologic viruses and fungi.

Preparation: visit my ‘Medicine Making’ page for more details

  • You can use the root fresh or dried to make a tincture. If using fresh root use a 1:2 ratio and if using dried root use 1:5 ratio. both with 50% alcohol. It’s best to take 15-30 drops up to 4x/day to stimulate digestion

  • The leaves can be made into a salve or oil to be used topically for cuts/scrapes as an antimicrobial

  • The leaves and fresh root & stem can also be made into a tea for topical use or as a mouthwash

  • The berries can be made into a jam with sufficient apple juice and pectin

Cautions: Oregon grape should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to its high alkaloid content. It may also affect the action of other medications, so please speak with your healthcare provider to ensure that oregon grape is safe for you.

Make Your Own Natural Medicine

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