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Hello there, and a happy Friday to you all!

Today we will be taking a drive up the coast into the beautiful mountains of the Pacific Northwest. There we find, amongst the trees, mist, and mountain air, a bright yellow, flowering bush bearing the common name of Oregon grape! This plant carries with it a long track record of medicinal use as a digestive tonic; the Plateau Indian tribes used the root of the bush to treat indigestion and stimulate appetite. Additionally, studies done in the past 20 years have shown that Oregon grape has the ability to become an all-star in the dermatological realm, due to the herb’s ability to treat chronic skin disorders. Its bright yellow flowers stand out amongst the earthy tones of deep greens, ocher and amber found in the forests it grows in, a star on the mountainsides of the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas. Continue reading below to learn more about this hardy and potent plant!

Oregon Grape’s Traditional Uses

As I mentioned previously, the indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest in centuries past used Oregon grape as an appetite stimulant when illness took hold in the body, or as a relief when indigestion caused intestinal pain. The berries, a purplish-black, tart fruit, were present in small portions in the traditional diets of Pacific Northwest tribes as well, and are now used to make jams, jellies, salal and wine. The pigment of the berries was also used to dye fabrics a light purple color, as were the bark of the stems and roots used to create a pale yellow dye.

When European colonists came to North America, they immediately associated Oregon grape with their European barberry, and attributed many of the magical, folkloric characteristics of the barberry with this North American “version”. The European barberry was known for its protective energies among those who practiced plant magic, and so it came to be that the thresholds of early European’s homes in the “New World” would have three branches of Oregon grape placed there for protection. Candace Hunter, over at The Practical Herbalist, says this about the Oregon grape:

“Oregon Grape grows amidst powerfully protective companions; poison oak, native blackberry, poison ivy. She understands the power of uniting with like forces to protect. To trespass into Oregon Grape’s territory unthinking is to encounter a myriad of pains for your trouble. Once one has incurred the wounds, though, Oregon Grape offers the medicine of healing. Oregon Grape’s protective magics are complex.”

Identifying Oregon Grape

Tall Oregon grape, or Mahonia aquifolium, is native to the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, and up into Canada. It prefers shady or woodland areas and high altitudes, and is able to withstand drought conditions and grow in nutrient-deficient soil. The bush can grow to be 3-7 feet tall, and is classified as an evergreen, with leathery, holly-like leaves that can become tinged with red in the autumn. The bright yellow clusters of flowers bloom in late spring, and are followed closely by the small, steel-blue, spherical berries that grow in bunches resembling grapes, hence the common name of “Oregon grape”. The stems and branches are thick and cork-like in appearance, and since the plant is an evergreen, rarely produce much in the way of leaf-litter.

Healing Attributes of Oregon Grape

Oregon grape is a strongly-bitter tasting plant, and this quality alone is an indicator that it can be used for issues concerning the digestive system. The medicinally-potent part of the plant is the root, and the key actions are as a bitter tonic, mild laxative, and as a skin cleanser. The herb is best taken as a tincture, decoction or capsule, and the daily dosage is recommended to be around 3-7.5 grams a day, maxing out at 50 grams a week. Take a look at the list below to learn what ailments and issues you can treat with Oregon grape in your day-to-day life!

  • Eczema, psoriasis, acne- Decoction, tincture or capsule of Oregon grape
  • Indigestion- Decoction or tincture of Oregon grape immediately upon feeling discomfort
  • Chronic inflamed stomach or gall bladder- capsule of Oregon grape daily
  • Poor appetite- Oregon grape decoction at the beginning of each day.

Oregon grape is often used in conjunction with licorice, which contains potent anti-inflammatory properties. Breastfeeding and pregnant mothers should avoid taking Oregon grape as some of its constituents can inadvertently cause harm to developing children when exposed to them in concentrated doses, like umbilical cords and breastfeeding would do.