Oregon grape is a valuable medicinal plant that can be harvested year-round. A cooling and clearing medicine with a range of therapeutic uses and in wilderness emergencies.
Latin Name: Mahonia aquifolium, M. nervosa (many more species)
Indigenous Names: suni'ulhp (Downriver/Island); suliyulhp (Upriver)
Eastern Name: Gong Lao Mu (Mahonia Bealei)
Common Names: Oregon Grape, Tall Oregon Grape, Mountain Grape, Mountain Holly, Oregon Holly, Holly Grape
An upright or spreading, evergreen shrub growing to 6ft. It has shiny, pinnately leaves, with 5-11 shiny, green, oblong, hollylike leaflets. The leaflets are flat to strongly wavy with sharp, spine-tipped teeth and not to be confused with Holly. The small yellowish-green flowers appear in dense racemes at branch tips. The blue-purple berries appear in autumn.
Mahonia nervous is native to North America, Oregon Grape grows in the Rocky Mountains up to 7,000ft and in the woods from Colorado to the Pacific coast. It is abundant in Oregon and northern California. A beautiful plant to grow, thriving in any good garden soil and tolerating dense shade under trees.
Oregon grape is an important food source for Indigenous peoples throughout the Pacific Northwest coastal region. The berries are eaten raw or dried into cakes for storage or trade to sustain during the winter. Often Oregon grape is mixed with salal berries to reduce the tart taste. The traditional uses include the root and leaves for loss of appetite and debility. The berries are a mild laxative. The root can be used to make a yellow dye and the berries to make a purple-blue dye.
An ancient medicinal plant in traditional Chinese medicine where it is valued for treating infections and supporting the liver.
The Eclectic physicians regarded it as specific for scaly, pustular and other skin diseases due to the disordered condition of the blood. It was of benefit internally for acne, dandruff, dyspepsia and conditions with liver involvement. It was generally used as a detoxifier and tonic.
THERAPEUTIC USES & RESEARCH
Oregon grape is a stimulating and purifying herb with an affinity for the digestive system, urinary system, lymphatic system and liver.
A potent bitter tonic with a stimulating action upon the secretory glands of the digestive system, most notably the liver and gall bladder, but also the stomach, and small and large intestines. Encourages bile production assisting in the breakdown and absorption of fats which helps to prep the digestive system to receive food, enhancing the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. A gentle laxative rather than a stimulating laxative is a direct result of its bitter action. Helpful as a remedy for nausea related to weak gallbladder function.
Oregan Grape is notable for improving metabolic functions of the body, digestion and absorption, as well as supporting detoxification. Thus it is used to facilitate the overall detoxifying processes of the body whenever some specific signs and symptoms point towards metabolic depression and an accumulation of toxins in the form of waste products from slowed metabolism. This is often manifested as digestive upset, lymphatic swelling, poor excretion, skin conditions, joint pain, chronic infections, low energy, fatigue, and brain fog, among others. Oregan Grape is also effective in skin troubles related to metabolic functions such as eczema, chronic cystic acne and psoriasis.
Berberine, a constituent within Oregan Gape is what gives the roots (and inner steams) their bold yellow hue. Berberine can be used to treat many diseases, such as cancer and digestive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases (Song et al.).
The research also Berberine strongly impacts carbohydrate metabolism and increases sensitivity to insulin. In the liver, berberine inhibits FOX01, SREBP1 and ChREBP pathways, and HNF-4α (hepatocyte nuclear factor 4 alpha) mRNA that hinders gluconeogenesis processes. In the intestines, it blocks α-glucosidase contributing to glucose absorption decrease. Its interference with intestinal flora reduces levels of monosaccharides and suppresses diabetes mellitus complications development (Baska et al.). The study showed Berberine stimulates glycolysis and leads to a decrease in insulin resistance by macrophage polarization, lipolytic processes induction and energy expenditure enhancement.
I have found Oregan grape to be a particularly effective therapy in patients with SIBO (Small intestinal bacteria overgrowth) helping bacterial balance and treat symptoms of gas, bloating, constipation and stagnation. Note in SIBO and all conditions in fact, the root cause of the imbalance should be addressed and Oregan Grape should not be used as a long-term remedy. A complete therapeutic plan implemented which includes diet needs to be included.
The antimicrobial nature can be effective in the urinary system for urinary tract infections and to clear excess stagnation in the respiratory system.
Berberine has been shown to also inhibit protozoa (Entamoeba, Giardia, Leishmania, Trichomonas), fungi (Candida), and various bacteria (Bacillus dysenteriae, Helicobacter pylori etc.). Making it a valuable ally in various infections and in first aid situations, especially as a wilderness emergency medicine. The root can be chewed for internal ailments if no boiled water is available to drink. A poultice can be made using all parts of the plant during the seasons for topical infections. The berries make for a temporary food source and are rich in Vitamin C.
Isoquinoline Alkaloids (berberine, berbamine, hydrastine, oxyberberine, oxyacanthine, canadine, mahonine, magnoflorine, jatrorrhizine), Tannins and Resins
Pregnancy & Lactation, Jaundiced Neonates
The roots, stems and berries can be harvested in their appropriate season. The roots should be harvested with care and only if there is an abundance of plants to avoid damaging the ecology. The roots are also relatively small compared to the plant making for a humble harvest. It is easier to dig for roots after rainfall since the soil is damp. The stems are best utilized over the root to keep preserving the lifespan of the plant. No more than 25 percent of a single plant should be harvested to avoid over-stressing and damaging the plant. Use a sharp knife to cut the stems to ensure regrowth is possible with less risk of infection.
Baska , Aleksandra, et al. “Berberine in the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus: A Review.” Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33092516/.
Song, Danyang, et al. “Biological Properties and Clinical Applications of Berberine.” Frontiers of Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32335802/.
Uvic Map . (1970, January 1). Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://mapping.uvic.ca/content/tall-oregon-grape
Zhou M, Deng Y, Liu M, Liao L, Dai X, Guo C, Zhao X, He L, Peng C, Li Y. The pharmacological activity of berberine, a review for liver protection. Eur J Pharmacol. 2021 Jan 5;890:173655. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2020.173655. Epub 2020 Oct 14. PMID: 33068590.