Herb: Oregon Grape

Latin name: Mahonia nervosa

Synonyms: Berberis glumacea, Berberis nervosa, Mahonia glumacea

Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Medicinal use of Oregon Grape:

The root is alterative and tonic. It improves the digestion and absorption and is recommended in the treatment of psoriasis, syphilis and impure blood conditions. A decoction of the peeled and chopped root bark has been used as a wash in treating arthritis and as an eyewash for red itchy eyes. The fruit is an excellent safe and gentle 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:


60 cm
(2 feet)

to April

Habitat of the herb:

Light dry woods and rocky ledges.

Edible parts of Oregon Grape:

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. Too acid for most tastes but they are very good in jams, jellies, pies etc. They can also be used to enhance the flavour of bland fruits or made into a refreshing lemon-flavoured drink. The fruit is about 8mm in diameter. Young tender leaves - cooked. Simmered in a small amount of water and eaten as a snack.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow dye is obtained from the inner bark of the stem and roots. Dark green, violet and dark blue-purple dyes are obtained from the fruit. A green dye is obtained from the leaves. Plants can be grown as a ground cover, spaced about 30cm apart each way. They are very slow to spread and so will need weeding for their first few years after planting.

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:

Light dry woods and rocky ledges.

Known hazards of Mahonia nervosa:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.