Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Oregon Grape

No need to take that name too seriously--these shrubs are found outside of Oregon and those grapes are really berries. 

photo by brewbooks
Still, it's a good plant to know if you spend any time rambling around Pacific Northwest forests, or are looking for a good native landscaping plant. 

Even during the winter, Oregon grape displays its shiny, dark green leaflets. Their shape gives the plant its alternative common name, Oregon holly.

In the late summer or fall, some of those leaflets blush a pretty red; in spring, fragrant clusters of bright yellow flowers show up, which will evolve into the bluish-purple berries.

And yup, the berries are edible, but tart. Some native people ate them, often mixing them with sweeter berries. Many tribes boiled the roots for a yellow pigment used to dye beargrass for basket-making. The boiled roots were also used to treat coughs, stomach upset, or venereal disease. Today, herbalist still use the plant to help fight infections and strengthen the immune system.

Have you ever tried the berries? Or made them into jelly?


  1. I have nibbled the berries and they give a powerful pucker. There are many, many varieties of Mahonia on the Clackamas Community College campus. I have wondered if some might be sweeter than others?

    The roots make a good yellow dye? Way cool!

  2. I had read about making jelly from them but have never done it. Used for venereal disease?? Really? Did it work?

  3. Leaf and berry combination are pretty distinctive but I have never seen it..

  4. We have Oregon Grape in our yard and I can see one as I write this. I have made jelly from them in the past; think I used apple juice to sweeten them, but then, it's been awhile.

  5. Grew up around these, think it was the Oregon state plant. Never tasted them though, although I have had salal berry syrup and jam.