Mahonia aquifolium is a native plant on the North American west coast from British Columbia to northern California, occurring mostly in the understory of Douglas-Fir forests. This plant is not a grape at all, but gets its name from the purple fruits that form following a robust yellow flower cluster. It resemble a holly bush, in fact the botanic name aquifolium means that the leaf is holly-like and is derived from the Roman name for holly, aquifolium, ‘prickly leaved’. Other names include; Blue Barberry, Holly Barberry, Holly Mahonia, and Mountain Grape. Oregon grape was introduced into medical practice in 1886 by the Pharmaceutical firm, Parke Davis & Company and was popular with physicians treating skin conditions. It was official in the US Pharmacopeia from 1905 to 1916. It contains many alkaloids chiefly Berberine, which has a strong, yellow, color. This and similar species were used to dye wool, leather and wood in addition to being used to address digestive complaints and skin issues.
The chief alkaloid in Oregon Grape; Berberine has been researched for its properties relating to the immune system, and the inhibition of growth of certain bacteria and fungi. Berberine is also found in the plant Goldenseal. Since Oregon grape is not threatened to extinction in most of its natural range, as Goldenseal, many herbalists are using it as an alternative plant. Berberine alone has many clinically relevant applications, which vary from eyedrops to applications for maintaining normal cholesterol, making it a very diverse chemical. In modern herbal practice it is used to support the healthy functioning of the immune system, to promote healthy skin functions, and to promote the natural detoxification process by supporting the lymphatic glands.
Uses of Oregon Grape
This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.