Botanical: Mahonia aquifolium (also known as Mahonia nervosa)
Family: Berberidaceae (barberry/barley)
Other common names: Mountain Grape, Oregon Grapeholly, Oregon Barberry, Alegrita, Sowberry,
Holly-leaved Barberry, California Barberry, Mahonia, Mountain Holly, Pepperidge, Sourberry, Yellow Root
Oregon-Grape is one of our most valuable herbs and thought to be unequalled in helping to purify the blood and cleanse the liver of wastes, as well as promoting a healthy gallbladder. It is also an effective antifungal and antibacterial. Moreover, Oregon-Grape helps to treat many skin problems and ease digestive disorders.
The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
Oregon-Grape, the state flower of Oregon, derives its name from its use as a medicine and food along the Oregon Trail, and that popularity as a food and medicine nearly led to its extinction in the late nineteenth century. The plant was also included in the traditional diets and medicines of the Pacific Northwest aboriginal peoples. Both the leaves and root bark of this evergreen perennial are used medicinally, and the root, containing the powerful alkaloid, berberine, was officially included in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1905 to 1916. Oregon-Grape was originally thought to be a species of Berberis and later determined to belong to its own genus, Mahonia, but all the species belong to the same plant family. Oregon-Grape closely resembles Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) in its chemistry and is used in similar ways, but the slightly different composition of the antiseptic alkaloid, berberine, makes it a better liver tonic. Oregon-Grape has been called yerba de la sangre (herb of the blood), indicating its importance as a blood purifier. The smaller Mahonia repens (creeping Oregon Grape) is also used for similar medicinal applications. Oregon- Grape leaves greatly resemble holly leaves, and the plant bears beautiful yellow flowers and small, tart, purplish-black fruits that resemble grape clusters. Oregon-Grape was included in many culinary preparations, including a jelly that is rich in vitamin C, and the root was also used as a greenish-yellow dye (the berries were a source of purple dye). Blackfoot Indians called it Ot-to-gue and used it to check rectal hemorrhage, dysentery and stomach troubles. The Kwakiutls made a bark tea to offset an excess of bile, and Oregon-Grape was also found to be beneficial for open boils, kidney troubles and as a topical antiseptic for wounds. In Europe today, Oregon-Grape is used topically to treat psoriasis and dry skin rashes. Some of the principal constituents in Oregon-Grape include alkaloids (especially berberine, berbamine, isocorydin and oxyacanthine), tannins and vitamin C.
Oregon-Grape Root is probably unequalled as a corrector of liver secretions. The root purifies the blood and cleanses the liver by helping to stimulate bile flow and releasing toxins. Some American herbalists believe that while strengthening the liver, it will also alleviate liver-related symptoms, such as jaundice, headache, toxic blood, poor digestion and gallbladder problems. Oregon-Grape helps the liver to metabolize wastes and toxins and has been said to be useful in the treatment of chronic hepatitis-B. Modern herbalists use the root to cleanse the spleen, and it is also thought to lessen the size of the spleen.
The berberine content in Oregon-Grape is believed to possess a wide spectrum of antifungal and antibacterial activity and has been used to stop diarrhea caused by toxic pathogens, such as bacterial dysentery. Some studies also claimed that its antibacterial activity has countered such important germs as E.coli and N. meningitides, among others. Berberine and other alkaloids have also been shown to kill a wide range of microbes and have been effective in human studies for speeding recovery from giardia, a parasite causing contagious diarrhea and cholera.
Used internally and externally, Oregon-Grape Root has been found to be very effective for reducing and preventing psoriatic lesions. With its blood cleansing and antibacterial qualities, it has been found to be helpful in treating various skin problems, such as acne, boils, rashes and eczema.
Oregon-Grape Root is said to regulate the digestive system. It is a bitter that is thought to stimulate and improve the function of the digestive organs, increasing hydrochloric acid in the stomach and digestive secretions that aid assimilation of foods. It is said to smooth mucous membranes and alleviate digestive complaints, including nausea and gastritis. Some studies claim that its use helps to remove obstructions in the intestinal tract and stimulate sluggish bowels. Herbalists sometimes use Oregon-Grape as an overall tonic to benefit delicate and convalescing people.
Berberine (found in Oregon-Grape, Barberry, Goldenseal, and the roots and bark of a number of plants) is now the focus of attention for use in diabetic care. In a report from Medical News Today (Diabetes News/August, 2006), a collaboration of Chinese, Korean and Australian scientists at Sydney's Garvan Institute revealed that berberine could be a valuable new treatment for this disease, giving scientific backing for its glucose lowering effects that were documented in Chinese literature and long used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Garvan scientist, Dr. Jiming Ye claimed that in lab tests, the berberine activates an enzyme in the muscle and liver that is involved in improving sensitivity of the tissue to insulin, which, in turn, helps lower blood sugar levels. Moreover, the berberine might help to reduce body weight. Professor James, the head of Garvan's Diabetes and Obesity Research Program added that despite berberine's widespread use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it would have to be evaluated following the defined clinical trials process.
Studies in China have shown that an alkaloid in Oregon-Grape Root, called berbamine, can help to protect bone marrow and promote recovery after chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Berberine-containing plants (Barberry, Oregon-Grape, Goldenseal, etc.) should not be used by pregnant or nursing women. Those who suffer from hyperthyroid conditions should not take Oregon Grape Root Herbal Supplement, and diabetics should use Oregon-Grape Root only under the supervision of a physician. There is some evidence that berberine may interfere with the efficacy of tetracycline medications. High doses (many times the recommended amount) may cause vomiting, lowered blood pressure and lowered heart rate, lethargy, nosebleed, skin, eye and kidney irritation. Do not take Oregon-Grape Root if you have chronic diarrhea, a duodenal ulcer or excessive stomach acid, as it could make these conditions worse. Oregon- Grape root is not recommended for prolonged use.