Oregon grape

Oregon grape berries (Mahonia aquifolium)
Oregon Grape is a common ornamental shrub in parks and gardens that is not actually related to Grape Vine. The berries are of interest to the forager and are best used to make a number of preserves.

Table of Contents

Oregon Grape: Plant profile

Common names

Oregon Grape, Oregon Holly,  Oregon Holly Grape, Hollyleaved Barberry, Mountain Grape, Mahonia

Botanical name

Mahonia aquifolium / Mahonia spp.

Plant family

Berberidaceae (Barberry)

Distribution

Oregon grape is a native plant in the North American West. Naturalized in Britain.

Where to find Oregon Grape

Parks, gardens, hedges and occasionally spread to woodlands.

When to find Oregon Grape

Flowers early winter to mid spring and berries mid summer to early autumn. (Season is quite variable depending on species and location).

How to identify Oregon Grape

Oregon Grape is an evergreen shrub growing up to 1 m. The leaves are pinnate and each leaf is made up of spiny leaflets, looking just like a holly leaf. The flowers are small and bright yellow in colour, hanging in dense clusters above the leaves. The berries hang in clusters too, and are purplish-black, covered in a light bloom.

Oregon Grape lookalikes

Holly (Ilex sp.)  leaves look similar but the growth habit is different. The berries of Holly are bright red in colour unlike the purple berries of Oregon Grape.

Oregon grape berries (Mahonia aquifolium)

All about Oregon Grape

Oregon Holly Grape is not closely related to either holly or grape, though the leaves do look like a holly.

This evergreen bush is popular in urban parks and council gardens, because it’s a low-maintenance shrub with perfumed yellow flowers  that blooms during the winter, when nothing else is flowering.

These flowers are followed by racemes of small purple berries covered in a light bloom, which are edible.

Medicinal properties of Oregon Grape

Though there is ongoing research, berberine contained in the roots and stems seems to slightly reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. It also may improve cholesterol levels and it’s used for the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Oregon grape is also used to treat chronic inflammatory or infected skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis or acne.

Culinary uses and recipes with Oregon Grape

The small purple berries of Mahonia spp  are quite tart and contain large seeds, but are suitable to make jam, jelly and sauce. Oregon Grape is also ideal for cordial, as the cooked berries taste a bit like Blackcurrant.

The flowers are edible and can be used to make a lemonade drink or sorbet.

Oregon grape in bloom (Mahonia aquifolium)

Safe foraging of Oregon Grape

Care should be taken when collecting the berries, because the shrub has big thorns.

Plants containing berberine should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Ecological importance of Oregon Grape

The flowers provide a food source for insect pollinators and berries are eaten by small birds.

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Alvaro Docio

Alvaro Docio

I am the person behind British Local Food. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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