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Learning from Mahonia (or Oregon Grape) - Sharing our wisdom on using plants & fungi as both healing medicine & wild nourishment has taken place generations before the current modern pathway of extracting chemicals & patenting cures.

Gathering with others in a circle to share healing stories, plant identification, and plant/fungi medicine-making, is something more of us are being called to do.


Early January, during a deep cold, I had the opportunity to seek & harvest a common NW forest understory plant - Mahonia or Oregon Grape.  The medicinal tincture I made is still in process.  

Below is a summary from written references combined with some personal experience.


I especially enjoy the sharing of personal healing stories & journeys, and the deepening of being in relationship with the living plant (& fungi) on the earth....May we share more as we are inspired.


A discussion on  'Medicinal Plants/Fungi & Ethnobotany'  is also located with our Earth Gardens network:


   -  Share your story - your wisdom - Share the earth's abundance  -


 *  Mahonia   *  ie Oregon Grape – Research Summary by Heather


Evergreen shrub/perennial    (Latin: Mahonia aquifolium & M. nervosa)

Parts Used: Berries & Bark of Roots & underground stems


Barberry Family. Two main species in our NW area: Mahonia aquifolium (taller & found in drier areas), and Mahonia nervosa (shorter/spreading and often in understory of NW forests of Douglas tree).


*Avoid use during pregnancy * Know your plant * – don't mix up with ivy plant. .


Edibility – Ripe berries (blue colored) are edible raw or cooled. Sweet/sour/bitter taste & high in Vit C.

Most research on native use points to edible berries and less on use of roots as medicine.  Local wild harvester & author Jennifer H.  writes the young tender spring leaf sprouts can be eaten.


Harvesting- Receive Permission. Giving Thanks, gather roots from midsummer to winter. Gather berries when ripe blue and before forest animals eat them....Thin from thick patches. Leave many berries for forest animals. Learn to identify plant even when its not flower and without berries. Dry & store berries. Dry or make tincture from underground bark of root.


Medicinal Uses: Can be used as replacement for Golden seal, or mixed with Goldenseal in ratio of 1part Goldenseal & 4 parts Mahonia or Barberry.

Root, stem, leaf contain a yellow bitter alkaloid berberine, which has antimicrobial properties & aids in fighting infections, topically & internally.

Also stimulates bile production & helps with liver & digestive disorders.

Some history of bark & berries being used for eye problems, and Saanich native reports using berries in quantity for an antidote to shellfish poisoning.

Great CAUTION must be used, as this medicine is very potent.

Other bioactive agents (in addition to berberine) are berbamime, oxyacanthine, ocyberbenine, canadine, mahonine, magnoflorine, & jatrorrhizine.


Preparations & Dosages: Dried fruit cakes, wine, jelly, tincture & decoction, dried root. Refer to your favorite herbalist for personal dosages. Refer to reference list below for medicine making handbook by James Green.

Other Uses- Upper Skagit tribes used yellow in roots for dying cloth & baskets.   Evergreen leaves can be used in bouquets and last long.


Range: Grows from Pacific Ocean to timberline in Rocky Mts. (BC/Alberta to mountains of CA, CO, NM & in between)


Other Common Names- Berberis, Barbery, Odostemon, Yerba de Sangre, Creeping Barberry, Mountain Holly



* “Plants of Pacific Northwest Coast” - Pojar & Mackinnon

* “Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West” - Michael Moore

“Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West' – Tilford

“Plant Technology of First Peoples in BC” - Turner

“The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook” -James Green

"       "  - Jennifer Hahn


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