Herb: Oregon Grape


Latin name: Mahonia aquifolium


Synonyms: Berberis aquifolium


Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)



Medicinal use of Oregon Grape:

Oregon grape was often used by several native North American Indian tribes to treat loss of appetite and debility. Its current herbal use is mainly in the treatment of gastritis and general digestive weakness, to stimulate the kidney and gallbladder function and to reduce catarrhal problems. The root and root bark is alterative, blood tonic, cholagogue, diuretic, laxative and tonic. It improves the digestion and absorption and is taken internally in the treatment of psoriasis, syphilis, haemorrhages, stomach complaints and impure blood conditions. Externally, it has been used as a gargle for sore throats and as a wash for blurry or bloodshot eyes. The roots are harvested in late autumn or early spring and dried for later use. The fruit is an excellent gentle and safe laxative. Berberine, universally present in rhizomes of Mahonia species, has marked antibacterial effects and is used as a bitter tonic. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery. It should not be used with Glycyrrhiza species (Liquorice) because this nullifies the effects of the berberine. Berberine has also shown antitumour activity. The root and root bark are best harvested in the autumn.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Evergreen
Shrub

Height:
2 m
(6 1/2 foot)

Flovering:
January
to May


Scent:
Scented
Shrub

Habitat of the herb:

Mixed coniferous woods to 2000 metres. It is found in woods and hedgerows in Britain.

Edible parts of Oregon Grape:

Fruit - raw or cooked. The fruit is almost as large as a blackcurrant and is produced in large bunches so it is easy to harvest. It has an acid flavour, but it is rather nice raw and is especially good when added to a porridge or muesli. Unfortunately, there is relatively little flesh and a lot of seeds, though some plants have larger and juicier fruits. The cooked fruit tastes somewhat like blackcurrants. The fruit can also be dried and stored for later use. Flowers - raw. They can also be used to make a lemonade-like drink.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow dye is obtained from the inner bark of the stem and roots. It is green according to another report. Dark green, violet and dark blue-purple dyes are obtained from the fruit. A green dye is obtained from the leaves. This species can be grown as a low hedge and does not need trimming. Because of its suckering habit, it also makes a good dense ground cover plant though it can be slow to become established.

Propagation of Oregon Grape:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. It usually germinates in the spring. "Green" seed (harvested when the embryo has fully developed but before the seed case has dried) should be sown as soon as it is harvested and germinates within 6 weeks. Stored seed should be sown as soon as possible in late winter or spring. 3 weeks cold stratification will improve its germination, which should take place in 3 - 6 months at 10C. Prick out the seedlings when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out in late spring or early summer. Division of suckers in spring. Whilst they can be placed direct into their permanent positions, better results are achieved if they are potted up and placed in a frame until established. Leaf cuttings in the autumn.

Cultivation of the herb:

Mixed coniferous woods to 2000 metres. It is found in woods and hedgerows in Britain.

Known hazards of Mahonia aquifolium:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.