Herb latin name: Mahonia japonica

Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Medicinal use of Mahonia japonica:

The leaf is febrifuge and is used as a tonic in cases of cancer. The seed is febrifuge and tonic. The roots and stems are antirheumatic, antitussive, depurative, expectorant and febrifuge. A decoction is used in the treatment of bone-breaking fevers, dizziness and tinnitus, backache, weak knees, dysentery and enteritis. The root and root bark are best harvested in the autumn. 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.

Description of the plant:


2 m
(6 1/2 foot)

to April


Habitat of the herb:

Damp woodlands in upland areas. Not found in a truly wild situation, this species is possibly only a cultigen.

Edible parts of Mahonia japonica:

Fruit - raw or cooked. An acid flavour, but it is rather nice raw especially when added to muesli or porridge. Unfortunately, there is relatively little flesh and a lot of seeds. The ovoid fruit is about 9mm long, it ripens in spring and crops can be quite good if the plant is in a sheltered position. The fruit is produced in large clusters and so is easy to harvest.

Propagation of the herb:

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 Mahonia japonica:

Damp woodlands in upland areas. Not found in a truly wild situation, this species is possibly only a cultigen.

Known hazards of Mahonia japonica:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.