Oregon Grape

Berberis aquifolium

Herbs gallery - Oregon Grape

Common names

  • Oregon Grape
  • Mountain Grape

Not many people are aware of the interesting fact that the state flower of Oregon blooms on this beautiful shrub. Known for its attractiveness and its rapid growth, the Oregon grape is used medicinally, as well as for ornamental landscaping in several homes across the country. The leaves of the Oregon grape resemble those of holly; they are dark green, spiny and shiny, in almost the same way as the holly leaves are dark green and shiny. The flowers of this shrub are small and yellowish green in color, and the berries of the Oregon grape are a shade of dark purple blue, especially when they ripen. They grow in small clusters, and in this they resemble clusters or bunches of grapes. The Oregon grape shrub can grow to almost 6 feet in height, but in general, it grows about 3 – 4 feet tall.

The Oregon grape has been recognized for its usefulness and value in Europe even during the Elizabethan times, and it continued to be valued all through the eighteenth century. It is generally assumed that it was the English settlers who brought the berries with them when they arrived on the shores of America. The English reportedly named the Oregon grape barberry, as it is still known to natives of the west and Northwest. Initially, it was thought that the shrub, which so closely resembled the holly, belonged to the species of Berberis, but it was later proved that it belonged to their own genus, Mahonia. However, in essence, they all belong to the same plant family.

Most American herbalists rank the Oregon grape as one among the most outstanding and exceptional Native American herbs available today. They also believe that the shrub is in fact one of the bets herbs available today, which can effectively stimulate liver activity and the secretion of bile. There are several reasons for this belief. For one, the Oregon grape boasts of a bright yellow root, which is high in the alkaloid berberine, which is in turn an important constituent of other similarly powerful healing plants like for example, goldenseal. The root is also said to have a warm and drying influence. The Oregon grape can stimulate weakened livers, and at the same time dramatically alleviate liver-induced symptoms such as headaches, poor digestion, and toxic blood. The versatile herb is also regarded as a blood purifier, although it is a fact that this point has not been clarified through scientific research. Herbalists of today prefer to use the Oregon grape to cleanse the liver, the spleen and in some cases the blood too. However, an individual who consumes too much rich food, or who overeats regularly and who therefore has an overactive liver must not use Oregon grape, because of its action on the liver.

Oregon grape is generally prepared in an easy infusion, using 1/2 ounce of dried Oregon grape root to one quart of water. The infusion can usually be taken a cup at a time, thrice a day until relief is obtained. Oregon grape is often used in herbal formulas, too. Since the berries of the Oregon grape have been found to possess a cooling effect, they are used to break fevers. The berries can be gathered during the late summer when they are considered to be fully ripe, after which they can either be dried and later powdered, or made into syrup. Oregon grape jams are very tasty indeed.

The European barberry is often said to be excellent for the digestion, and that it was exceptionally good for the gallbladder and the liver. In America, Oregon grape of both European and American varieties was used for the treatment of dysentery and diarrhea, and also for a variety of digestive problems and disorders. Woodsour, sour-spine, sowberry, or pipperidge bush, as well as jaundice berry, termed so because of the yellow color of the wood, all refer to the same plant, the Oregon grape. The yellow color of the wood is derived from the active ingredient in the plant, berberine, along with other alkaloids. It must be remembered that berberine is a component present in the Berberis and Mahonia species as well as in the goldenseal.

Often, it has been suggested that the Oregon grape may be used as an effective substitute for the goldenseal, which is today quite difficult to find, and is listed as endangered, since it is a fact that both the goldenseal as well as the Oregon grape contain berberine, as can be proved by the Native Americans, who used both the plants as and when required. It was believed that the Oregon grape would prove to bring about a great improvement in one’s appetite, while at the same time improving one’s generally weakened condition. However, even though the purplish berries are edible and rich in vitamin C, the part of the Oregon grape that is used in medicine is the root.

Parts used



Oregon grape is generally used for gastritis and for all types of general digestive weaknesses, and it is also effective for stimulating gallbladder functions, and for bringing in improvement in congestion problems that may be concentrated in the gut. Oregon grape can be used to treat and improve conditions like acne, boils, eczema, herpes and psoriasis, and skin conditions that may be directly linked to poor function of the gallbladder.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

The Oregon grape is considered to be native to North America, where it is found growing in the Rocky Mountains up to 7,000 ft or 2,000 m, and Oregon grape can be found in woods from Colorado to the Pacific coast. Oregon grape grows abundantly in the regions of Oregon and northern California.

The shrub must be grown in a shady and fairly rich and well drained soil conditions. For propagation, the cuttings can be obtained during midsummer and planted. The new plants of Oregon grape would be ready to set out during spring of the next year. The handsome plant can be grown from seeds too. The seeds can be obtained from the ripe berries during the fall and then planted outdoors. One must be careful that stratification or in other words good exposure to cold weather occurs for the saplings. The Oregon grape plants can also be obtained at nurseries across America.

As mentioned earlier, it is the root of the Oregon grape that is used for medicinal purposes. One must make sure that one does not gather the roots before the second year of the plant’s growth, that is, in late autumn, or in the climates where the ground does not freeze during the winter. After harvesting the roots of Oregon grape, one can replant the crown roots, and these may at times give rise to new plants. Several herbalists suggest that one can dig up the ground around the roots, so that enough of the root system is left behind for the plant to survive, making sure that the pruning is done to a level of one-fourth to one-third of the roots with shears.


Oregon grape contains isoquinoline alkaloids (including berberine, berbamine, and hydrastine). These alkaloids are strong antiseptics and are thought  to reduce the severity of psoriasis.

Usual dosage

No standard dosage of Oregon grape herb is established.

Side effects and cautions

Oregon grape is deemed not suitable for pregnant women, because of present evidence that taking Oregon grape can cause uterine contractions in animals on which it has been tested. Taking too much Oregon grape can cause diarrhea and other undesirable effects like kidney inflammation, and some unwelcome psychological effects of a stupor and daze.


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