Alternative Names: Alegrita, California Barberry, Japonica, Mahonia, Mountain Grape, Mountain Holly, Pepperidge, Sourberry, Sowberry and Yellow Root.
A close relative to barberry, Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), has nearly identical medicinal uses. The root of Oregon grape contains berberine alkaloids such as berberine and hydrastine. Oregon Grape derives its name from its use as a medicine and food along the Oregon Trail. Traditional uses of these three components differ only slightly, and Oregon grape root seems to have been used for various skin conditions (psoriasis, acne, etc) and in general detoxification protocols more often than the other two. Oregon grape shrubs can grow up to 6 feet in height. This bush has gray branches with 1-inch long leaves that appear gray underneath. They turn a golden color during fall. Oregon grape blooms in the spring with drooping clusters of small yellow flowers. The fruit are oval shaped powder blue colored berries. The wood is a brilliant yellow color inside. Be careful if you harvest Oregon grape leaves, as they are very spiny.
Oregon grape grows in thickets and in pastures all along the Pacific Coast of North America. It also grows in rough, mountainous terrain eastward, including the Rocky Mountains.
Oregon grape root was once a valuable commodity because of its high berberine content. Berberine is one of the active ingredients found in goldenseal that helps bloodshot eyes and sore throats. Its popularity in trade led to its near extinction around cities near the beginning of this century.
Oregon grape rhizome and roots have the following properties: alterative, antibiotic, antiseptic, astringent, bitter taste, cholagogue, cooling, diuretic, emetic, laxative, thyroid stimulant. They affect the blood, intestines, liver, skin, spleen and stomach.
Traditional uses of Oregon grape include: acne, arthritis, bronchial congestion, chronic fatigue, eczema, hepatitis, herpes, hypoglycemia, indigestion, lymphatic congestion, menstrual problems, psoriasis, scrofula, syphilis, and vaginitis.
Oregon Grape is rich in vitamin C and has been made into a beverage that was useful for scurvy, fever and upset stomachs. This drink was also used as a mouthwash and gargle. The root soaked in warm beer was said be helpful for cases of hemorrhaging and jaundice.
In modern times, Oregon grape is known as a good liver cleanser. This is due to the fact that it increases bile production. This action also aids digestion and purifies the blood. When combined with dandelion, milk thistle or celandine, it can be very effective in combatting hepatitis B and jaundice.
Oregon grape's antiseptic properties make it a useful external application for skin conditions. Internally, its blood purifying properties make it useful for blood conditions as well as skin problems.
Recent studies have shown that berberine containing herbs may be useful for those suffering from diarrhea and especially bacterial dysentery. This high berberine content makes it a good alternative to goldenseal in many cases, including infections.