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Herbal Monograph

Herb:    OREGON GRAPE     (Mahonia repens;  Berberidaceae;  Berberis aquifolium)                                       

Other Names:    holly-leaf berberis (2); alegrita, California barberry, japonica, mahonia, Oregon mountain grape, mountain holly, pepperidge, sourberry, sowberry, yellow root (1); Oregon grape, holly-leaved berberry.    (57)

Character/Energetics:   cold, bitter   (6)     

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:   blood, intestines, liver, skin, spleen and stomach  (1);   liver, stomach, colon (6);  liver, stomach, intestines, blood and skin   (14)                                                                                                   

Part(s) used:   root   (6)  (14);  rhizome, root   (15)                                                                                                         

Identification & Harvesting:    A fast-growing evergreen, stoloniferous shrub 2′-5′ high with sturdy stems and few branches.  Leaves are odd-pinnate, 4″-8″ long with 3-6 pairs of leaflets.  Leaflets are up to 3″ long, ovate, leathery, dark, shiny green and spiny.  Heavily scented yellow 6-petaled flowers are either in dense panicles or in erect racemes in the leaf axils.  Fruit is a purple-blue frosted berry with red juice.  2-5 glossy brown seeds.  Indigenous to pacific US, cultivated in Europe.    (2)

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 are very spiny.

Habitat: 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.   (1)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Collect underground parts in autumn, clean carefully, cut into slices and dry.    (8)

Root occurs in pieces averaging about 3/4-1 inch in diameter, with a thin greyish yellowish brown bark, internally greenish yellow, and a hard, yellowish wood with numerous medullary rays and very short, broken, white, waved lines between them.  The rhizomatous part has a small pith.  Tastes bitter;  no odor.    (57)

Active Constituents:    Isoquinoline alkaloids 2.4-4.5% of the -benzyl isoquinoline type incl. berberine, berbamine, oxyacanthine, isocorydin.    (2)

alkaloid berberine  (6); alkaloids incl. berberine, oxyacanthine, berbamine.    (8)

Actions:    antiprolific, antipsoriatic when used extremities (2);

alterative, antibiotic, antiseptic, astringent, bitter taste, cholagogue, cooling, diuretic, emetic, laxative, thyroid stimulant.   (1)                                  

similar in action to goldenseal and barberry  (8); alterative, antiseptic, cholagogue, laxative, tonic (14); cleansing, stops diarrhea, promotes bile flow, tonic (15);

Alterative, tonic.  Improves digestion and absorption.    (57)     

Conditions & Uses:     Psoriasis    (2)

“Alternate to goldenseal”…

The name Oregon grape comes from its use as a medicine and food along the Oregon Trail. The fruit 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.

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 is in the same family as barberry and both contain the same alkaloids as goldenseal. Barberry is more specific for the liver while Oregon grape is a valuable aid to the lymphatic system.

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.

Modern uses: Oregon grape is 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.   (1)

This is the Pacific Northwest variety of barberry and was used by the indigenous mountain folk of Califomia as the preferred treatment for all chronic degenerative diseases, especially cancer and arthritis. Combined with dandelion root in a tea, it is an excellent treatment for hepatitis and jaundice. It also is good for chronic skin problems caused by blood toxicity

There are several related varieties of this plant, which appear to have similar properties. This herb is known in the Spanish‑American tradition as Yerba de la Sangre, “herb of the blood,” indicating their widespread use of it as a blood purifier. It was used by them in this in the treatment of syphilis and as a mild diuretic laxative. They also used it very similarly to yellow dock in the treatment of anemia. This is not because of the significant presence of iron in the plant but rather its ability to release iron stored in the liver. Women would drink it first thing each morning to stimulate menses.    (6)

Finds its main use in treatment of chronic and scaly skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.  As skin problems of this sort are due to systemic causes in the body, the tonic activity on the liver and gall bladder may explain its potency.    (8)

                  Especially useful for treatment of ear problems….has antimicrobial activity against bacterial, fungal and yeast infections. (1c)


            Blood purifier:  Tincture,  Fluid Extract, Powder

            Constipation:   Tincture, Fluid Extract*, Decoction

            Chronic eczema: Tincture, Fluid Extract

            Creates appetite: Tincture, Fluid Extract, Decoction

            Gas:  Tincture,  Fluid Extract

            Improvess absorption:   Tincture, Fluid Extract

            Increases strength:   Tincture, Fluid Extract

            Jaundice:  Tincture*, Fluid Extract*, Decoction*

            Kidney and liver troubles:  Tincture*, Fluid Extract*, Decoction*, Powder*

            Leukorrhea:  Tincture, Fluid Extract

            Liver stimulant:  Tincture, Fluid Extract

            Psoriasis:  Tincture, Fluid Extract

            Rheumatism:  Tincture*, Fluid Extract*, Decoction*, Powder*

            Skin diseases: Tincture*, Fluid Extract*, Decoction*, Powder*


            Leukorrhea:  Douche

Oregon grape root is an excellent blood purifier and is highly recommended in all chronic skin disease such as psoriasis, eczema, herpes and acne. The tincture is the most acceptable method of administering this botanical.

By stimulating the liver and gall bladder, it helps to overcome constipation. It has antiseptic qualities which influence the kidneys and can be used as a douche. Oregon grape root is very similar to barberry in its actions, but it has a stimulating effect on the thyroid gland.   (14)

* indicates that in these applications, oregon grape root is usually combined w/other herbs

Improves digestion and absorption, and is useful in most diseases arising from impurity of blood.  In syphilitic and scrofulous conditions and skin diseases of a scaly character it may be used with advantage.  In chronic constipation it is generally used in conjunction with cascara sagrada.    (57)

Combinations:    For skin problems, combine with burdock root, yellow dock, and cleavers.  For gall bladder problems, use with black root and fringe tree bark.    (8)

In chronic constipation it is generally used in conjunction with cascara sagrada.    (57)

Precautions:    No known hazards or side effects with designated dosages.    (2)

avoid in pregnancy   (15)

Berberine has coagulant activity;  therefore will offset the anti-coagulant activity present in herbs like chamomile, dong quai, or horse chestnut.    (1b)                                                                                                                                     

Tincturing Process:


           Infusion:   simmer 10 minutes. 3 oz. three times daily     

           Decoction: steep 10 minutes. 3 oz. three times daily  (before meal.s, made fresh daily)

           Tincture: 30 to 60 drops (1/2 to 1 tsp.) three times daily

           Fluid Extract: 1/2 to 1 tsp. three times daily

           Powder: 2 to 5 capsules (15 to 30 grains) several times a day    (14)


Dosage:   see above 

    Fresh Oregon grape root and rhizome should be used promptly to assure

the strongest potency. A decoction is made by steeping 1 teaspoon of the root for 30 minutes in 1‑1/2 pints of boiling water. This mixture is then strained before drinking. In capsule form, take 1‑2 capsules 2‑3 times daily. In liquid form, take 1/4 to ½ teaspoon daily of Oregon grape.   (1)tincture, 10‑30 drops; 3‑9 gms. in formulas     (6)                                                                                                                                  

Liquid extract dose 10-30 drops.    (57)

General Notes:



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data/“Nature’s Field,” Sept/Oct 1997

(1b)  ibid Research Data, “The Herb-Drug Mix” by Robert Rountree, M.D., Herbs for Health,

Jul/Aug ’99, pgs. 52-54

(1c) ibid Research Data, Randy Kidd, Herbs for Health, pg. 18, October 2005 

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 953-54

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 205-206

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 216

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 153-154

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pg. 181

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 240


PHOTO: Wikipedia