Oregon Grapes Identification and uses

Oregon Grapes are endemic to North America, and are often used to complement garden landscapes. These unique plants have spiny leaves and interesting grape-like clusters of berries. In the past, Native peoples of North America used Oregon grapes both for nourishment and medicinal purposes.

“Oregon-grape is a native plant on the North American west coast from British Columbia to northern California, occurring in the under-story of Douglas-fir forests and in brush lands. It is the state flower of Oregon.” (Source, Wikipedia)

Low-lying, wintergreen shrubs with leathery, holly-like leaves, which are divided into spiny-edged leaflets. (Dark green in Summer, Purple or red in Winter) Berries form in April to June in small clusters. See images below.



Food Uses:
The sour, juicy berries can be eaten fresh or be made into preserves, jams and wines. A particularly refreshing dessert is made by mashing Oregon grapes with sugar and serving them with milk. Oregon grape juice is said to taste like grapefruit juice. Grape production can vary greatly from year to year, and grub infestations can deem the grapes inedible. Very young leaves can be eaten as part of a salad, or simmered like a vegetable.

Medicinal uses:
The roots of the Oregon grape plant contain the alkaloid called berberis, which stimulates involuntary muscles. Root tea was used to aid in the delivery of the afterbirth as well as to relieve constipation. Amusingly, tea was also taken to relative coughing, though the stimulating effects of berberis would be more likely to increase coughing than decrease it.

Other Uses:
Boiled, shredded root bark produces a brilliant yellow dye. Tall Oregon grape is used in landscaping, since it is strong against drought and is very hardy. Oregon grape is the state flower of Oregon. Oregon grapes are often used in landscaping; often as a substitute for barberry.

Do not confuse Oregon grape with Creeping mahonia or Cascade Oregon-grape. Uses vary.

High doses of Oregon grape can be harmful to health. Oregon grape can cause nose bleeds, skin and eye irritation, sluggishness, diarrhoea, vomiting, kidney inflammation, and even death. Pregnant women should not use Oregon grape. Do not take Oregon Grapes products if you are sensitive to other wild plant compounds. Remember that this article is no way is intended to offer medical advice; it is merely an interesting resource for those who would like to become more familiar with some useful plants.