Herb: Creeping Oregon Grape

Latin name: Mahonia repens

Synonyms: Berberis nana, Berberis repens, Mahonia nana

Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Medicinal use of Creeping Oregon Grape:

The root and root bark is alterative, anaphrodisiac, antiseptic, cholagogue, depurative, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, laxative and tonic. It improves the digestion and absorption and is taken internally in the treatment of coughs, fevers, psoriasis, syphilis, haemorrhages, stomach complaints, kidney problems and impure blood conditions. Externally, it is used as an antiseptic and healing wash or poultice on wounds and rheumatic joints. The roots are harvested in late autumn or early spring and dried for later use. A poultice of the fresh berries has been applied to boils. 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:


30 cm
(11 3/4 inch)

to May


Habitat of the herb:

Hills and slopes, often in partial shade, usually on dry slopes.

Edible parts of Creeping 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. Used for making jams. jellies etc. They can also be made into a refreshing lemonade-like beverage. When sugar is added, the fruit juice is similar to grape juice. The fruit is about 9mm in diameter.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow dye is obtained from the inner bark of the stem and roots. It is green. Dark green, violet and dark blue-purple dyes are obtained from the fruit. A green dye is obtained from the leaves. Plants form suckers freely, making a good dense ground cover, though they can be slow to become established and will need weeding for their first few years after planting out. The sub-species M. repens rotundifolia has been especially recommended. A useful plant for preventing soil erosion on slopes.

Propagation of Creeping 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:

Hills and slopes, often in partial shade, usually on dry slopes.

Known hazards of Mahonia repens:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.