Oregon Grape: Plant profile
Oregon Grape, Oregon Holly, Oregon Holly Grape, Hollyleaved Barberry, Mountain Grape, Mahonia
Mahonia aquifolium / Mahonia spp.
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.
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.
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.