Also known as holly-leaved barberry, mahonia and mountain grape.
Parts used: root
Meridians/Organs affected: Liver, gallbladder, blood, skin
Properties: cholagogue, anti-inflammatory, alterative, detergent, tonic, digestive, depurant, hepatic, antiscorbutic, antisyphilitic, antiperiodic, antiscrofulous, slight stimulant, antibiotic and antimicrobial
Oregon grape is a member of the barberry family. There are 4 main varieties of Oregon Grape referred to as mahonia. The best one for the most medicinal potentcy is commonly grown as an ornamental plant, mahonia aquifolium. It is native to the Pacific Northwest (BC, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, etc. In fact is it the Oregon state flower) but all varieties are medicinal.
Oregon grape resembles holly in that its leaves are spiny with a shiny leather like exterior (when they are older and more established anyway). The flowers are yellow and form clusters and flower generally from April to June. The fruits look much like a blueberry and have been used to make jellies, jams, wine, syrup, etc. They can be eaten raw or cooked although eating them raw can be somewhat sour. The root contains the active medicinal components and can be gathered any time of the year between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (at its most potent medicinally). The root contains berberies (found effective against staph, strep, e. coli, salmonella and a host of other bacterial organisms), which is also one of the main components of the herb goldenseal, which is why oregon grape can often be substituted for the harder to find goldenseal in many formulas. Oregon grape also is known to stimulate involuntary muscles. The root tea is said to relieve constipation, coughs and aid in the delivery of afterbirth from pregnancy. (Which is also why pregnant women should NOT use it due to the fact it stimulates the uterus to contract.)
The root also has been used in poultices, powders and teas for wounds, scorpion stings, gonorrhea and syphilis. The leaves have been used in tea as a tonic for kidney issues, diarrhea, dysentery, skin problems, stomach complaints, rheumatism and chronic uterine issues.
According to Dr. John Christopher, oregon grape is a great blood cleanser. It cleans the blood and tissues of waste and toxins. It is also a bitter herb and as such, stimulates the liver and gallbladder.
Several indian tribes have used the roots of this herb to make a yellow dye.
Oregon grape also dilates the blood vessels, helping to lower blood pressure (please consult a physician before trying this if you are on medication).
One of the main uses over the years has been for chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema (as a decoction, tincture or salve). Another main use has been as a liver stimulant. As such, it has been used for poor appetite, insufficient nutritional absorption, hyperglycemia, indigestion, diabetes, hepatitis, gallstones, cancer, arthritis and bronchial congestion.
As it is considered a cooling herb, it should not be taken long term by those suffering from cold and deficient type conditions (such as those with hypothyroid or anemia). Also do not use it if you have chronic gastrointestinal issues or irritable bowel syndrome as it is counter-productive to stimulate processes that are already in an excited state. (As a little of this herb goes a LONG way, do not use it for more than 10 days consecutively). High amounts of oregon grape can cause skin and eye irritations, sluggishness, nose bleeds, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, kidney inflammation and even death. (AGAIN....A LITTLE OF THIS HERB GOES A LONG WAY! USE LOGIC WHEN USING IT!) Some things are best in minute amounts over a short period of time.
Clearly this is an important herb with amazing applications. It should have a special space on your herbal medicinal shelf reserved for chronic conditions and emergency situations. I think I would rather have it on hand and not need it than need it and not have it. Consider it for your own personal herbal kit. As is customary I have left some links below in regards to oregon grape. Use them as you see fit. Stay healthy!