Oregon Grape


Common Names: Barberry, Mahonia, Mountain Holly Odostemon, PNW Goldenseal 

Botanical Name: Mahonia repens, M. aquifolia, M. nervosa, M. pinnata

Plant Family: Berberidaceae

Parts Used: Roots, Berries and New Growth Leaves for snacking

Actions: Bitter Tonic, Astringent, Alterative, Cholagogue, Laxative, Anti-emetic, Anti-catarrhal, Hepatic, Antibacterial, Antimicrobial, Antitumor, Diuretic, Ophthalmic

Habitat: Grows in the shade in the northern coastal range of California and western slopes or the Sierras, also in shady lower forests of Oregon and Washington, sometimes on the east side of the Cascades. Also found in forested areas of Idaho and British Columbia.

Identification: If I were to ask a child in the forest what Oregon Grape was, they would immediately yell out, “HOLLY!”. Yes, Oregon Grape has dark, evergreen leaves with prickles on the edge like Holly, but its growth habits and patterns are quite different. Oregon Grape is commonly found growing low to the ground (though M. aquifolia grows as a leafy bush up to 2-6Ft. high). It has pinnate leaves, where the leaflets are opposite and there is one terminal leaflet. The leaves are shiny, dark green and oblong-oval. Though the leaflets are opposite the compound leaves grow ALTERNATE on the plant with long, wiry petioles. The flowers bloom in March-April and give a lovely yellow burst to the forest flora. The mature fruits are a bluish color and are ready for eating by mid-summer (but remember that the animals eat here too!).




It’s a fact that people take Turmeric for inflammation, yet does anyone know why? Turmeric has berberine. It’s a yellow colored alkaloid compound that has properties such as antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and an immune-enhancer. Like Turmeric, the inner cambium/bark layer of Oregon Grape’s roots are bright yellow and filled with berberine. You can even taste this alkaloid in the bright yellow inflorescence of Oregon Grape’s flowers.


Oregon Grape is BITTER. It is cooling, detoxifying and drying. If someone is hot, moist and stagnant, Oregon Grape will stimulate their energy. Heat can be characterized by redness, inflammation, hotness, moistness/wetness in the body and yellow fluids. Oregon Grape’s cooling bitterness can balance a hot, infectious person.



Oregon Grape falls under the category of being a “hepatic”, meaning it’s an herb for the liver. The herb’s bitterness stimulates saliva, bile and digestive enzymes. It helps the lining of the digestive tract (from mouth to anus). The secretion of bile from the liver and gallbladder ultimately help the body digest fats and also helps promote movement of peristaltic muscles. Oregon Grape stimulates a stagnant liver.


Did you know that the liver filters hormones? And the female reproduction system can suffer from liver stagnation resulting in irregular menstruation, bloating, cramps, PMS and headaches. Yet, Oregon Grape root can be combined with lymphatic and blood-moving herbs to help move hormone imbalances and complaints that arise from that.

What about liver’s connection to the skin? If the liver isn’t happily circulating nutrients and waste in/out and throughout the body, then we can start noticing skin reactions. A healthy, functioning liver makes healthy skin.

Give your liver a break. If you are using Oregon Grape for Liver Health, take it in the morning/early day. Let your liver rest over night by not eating or stimulating the salivary glands.



Oregon Grape’s constituent, berberine contains a specific multidrug resistance pump inhibitor (MDR Inhibitor, known as “5’-MHC)) that works to decrease bacterial resistance in antibiotics. Hence, Oregon Grape (and other plants with berberine) has proven to fight off MRSA. A former student at Cedar Mountain Herb School, recently got rid of this serious staph infection that’s resistant to pharmaceutical antibiotics (A.K.A MRSA) by using Oregon Grape root tincture. And more case studies are showing the positive results of the berberine constituent.

Though MRSA is more of a serious infection, Oregon Grape can also be used for the following infections:

-Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

-Vaginal infection

-Eye infections

-Mouth infections

-Inflamed Bowel conditions

-Infections in the upper digestive tract

-Sore Throat from viral infection

-Skin Infections (from wounds)


Herbal Preparations:


Skin & Liver Tea

1 tsp Burdock root

1 tsp Oregon grape root

1 tsp Licorice root

1 tsp Ginger root

 1 tsp Dandelion root

1 tsp Cinnamon Bark

½ tsp Yellow dock root

½ tsp Orange Peel

4 cups water

Combine the above herbs in a pan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes; cool and strain. Take a tablespoon at a time, up to half a cup a day.


Detox Tea:

1 pt Calendula

1 pt Dandelion root

1 pt Oregon Grape

1 pt Nettle

½ pt Red Raspberry Leaf

½ pt Red Clover

½ pt Fennel

½ pt Sage

¼ pt White Oak Bark

Combine the above herbs in a pan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes; cool and strain. Take a tablespoon at a time, up to half a cup a day.



Other:  Tincture, Honey




EncyclopediaofHerbsandTheirUses,Deni Bown, Dorling Kindersley, 1995; ISBN: 0- 7894-0184-3

Planetary Herbology, Michael Tierra, Lotus Press, 1988, ISBN: 0941-524272