Oregon-grape grows to 1-5 m tall. Its leathery leaves resemble holly and the stems and twigs have a thickened, corky appearance. The flowers, borne in late spring, are an attractive yellow.
Oregon-grape is used in landscaping similarly to barberry, as a plant suited for low-maintenance plantings and loose hedges. Oregon-grape is resistant to summer drought, tolerates poor soils, and does not create excessive leaf litter. Its berries attract birds.
The small purplish-black fruits, which are quite tart and contain large seeds, are sometimes used locally mixed with Salal to make jelly. The fruit is bitter, and generally not eaten without being sweetened first. As the leaves of Oregon-grape are holly-like and resist wilting, the foliage is sometimes used by florists for greenery and a small gathering industry has been established in the Pacific Northwest. The inner bark of the larger stems and roots of Oregon-grape yield a yellow dye.
Oregon-grape is a native plant on the North American west coast from British Columbia to northern California, occurring in the understory of Douglas-fir forests and in brushlands. It is the state flower of Oregon.
In some areas outside its native range, Oregon-grape has been classified as an invasive exotic species that may displace native vegetation.
Oregon grape root is commonly used medicinally as an effective alternative to the threatened goldenseal. Both plants similarly contain the alkaloid berberine, known as an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial used in the treatment of infection. Berberine and other alkaloids present in Oregon grape root have been shown to kill a wide range of microbes and have been effective in speeding recovery from giardia, candida, viral diarrhea, and cholera. Mahonia aquifolium is also known to be capable of treatment on inflammatory skin diseases such as Eczema and Psoriasis. Oregon grape root also has anticancer properties that are receiving more attention by researchers. Other actions may include alterative, diuretic, laxative and tonic.
Health Warning: Because of a potential toxicity or adverse effects of berberine, consult a reputable herbalist regarding dosages and treatments. Use of berberine is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding.