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Dr. Leslie Batten
Naturopathic Physician

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Medicinal Plant: Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape)

oregon grapeIt is mid-September and fall is in the air. Blue cloudless skies, cool breezes...and trees still have their leaves. It's just a gorgeous time of year here in western Oregon. As I was walking around our neighborhood, I took note of how many of us have Oregon grape growing in our yards. It is an evergreen shrub that can grow as high as six feet. Its berries are purple, its flowers are a yellow-green. The leaves look (and feel) much like holly. And it is an amazing medicinal plant. Although as a forester I learned this plant as Berberis aquifolium, it is now more commonly known as Mahonia aquifolium.

Habitat

It grows in the woods from the Pacific ocean to the Rocky Mountains, at elevations as high as 7,000 feet.

Parts Used

The only part used medicinally is the roots. The berries do make a yummy jam, however (here's a recipe).

Key Actions

Oregon grape is a powerful antiseptic. It contains isoquinoline alkaloids, including berberine and hydrastine. It is a bitter digestive stimulant, is inflammation-modulating, is antimicrobial, hepatoprotective, and antineoplastic.

Uses

It's used as a digestive stimulant and to help settle gas in the GI tract. Topically, it can be used for chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and acne. When it wears its antimicrobial hat, it is useful for people with candidiasis, mastitis, gastroenteritis, hepatitis, urinary tract infections, and cancer.

Source: Chevallier, Andrew. Natural Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. New York: DK Publishing, 2000. Print.

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