Oregon Grape Root (Berberis aquifolium)

Oregon Grape Root is a small evergreen shrub in the Berberidaceae family native to Western North America. Oregon grape root has smooth, waxy, oppositely arranged, spiny dark green leaflets that resembling holly and turn purplish red in the autumn. Although it is not a true grape, it has tight clusters of dark mauve fruits that resemble grapes. It has bright yellow flowers in the spring. It is often seen named Mahonia aquifolium in botanical texts. It is an understory bush in Douglas Fir forests, the brush-lands of the Cascades, Rockies, and Northern Sierras. It is often used in horticultural gardens for shady spots with poor soils, as it can tolerate both and attracts birds. It is also summer drought resistant. For harvest, roots should be dug up in the spring or autumn, debarked, and dried in the shade.

Medicinal Uses
The roots and suckers are alteratives, used to cleanse the blood and treat skin conditions such as excema, psoriasis, acne, and cold sores. The roots also act as a digestive and liver tonic, promoting the flow of bile. Its useful for inflammation of the gall bladder, gall stones, enlarged spleens, jaundice, and to cleanse a weakened system. It is also useful against malaria and leishmania, and can also help with inflammation of the joints. It’s specific actions are on the liver and as an anti-microbial, and because the liver affects so much of the body, Oregon Grape Root is far reaching in it’s benefits.

Folk Uses
The roots and inner bark of the stems produce a yellow dye and the berries a dark purple one. Traditionally, the berries were used to treat indigestion and nausea. The small dark berries can be made into jellies and wines, mixed with the berries from salal, or on their own. The summer berries have a naturally high pectin level, making them ideal for jelly and canning.

The root should be prepared as a tincture, and 2-4ml should be taken a day. It can also be prepared as a decoction, with about a teaspoon of bark per cup of water, taken three times a day. The raw berries should be eaten sparingly, as they are emetic-vomit inducing. It should be avoided during pregnancy.

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Close up of the bright yellow root of Oregon Grape.

Close up of the bright yellow root of Oregon Grape.