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Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia aquifolium, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Divisio: Magnoliophyta
Classis: Magnoliopsida
Ordo: Ranunculales
Familia: Berberidaceae
Subfamilia: Berberidoideae
Tribus: Berberideae
Subtribus: Berberidinae
Genus: Mahonia
Species: Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia aquifolium, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium, Berberidaceae) is an evergreen shrub related to the barberry. Some authors place Mahonia in the barberry genus, Berberis. The Oregon-grape is not related to true grapes, but gets its name from the purple clusters of berries whose color and slightly dusted appearance is reminiscent of grapes.

The name

The name is often left un-hyphenated as Oregon grape, though doing so invites confusion with the true grapes. It also occasionally appears in print as Oregongrape. It is sometimes called Tall Oregon-grape to distinguish it from Creeping Oregon-grape (M. repens) and "Cascade" or Dwarf Oregon-grape (M. nervosa).

The botanic name aquifolium means that the leaf is holly-like (from the Roman name for holly, aquifolium, 'prickly leaved').


The plant grows to 1–5 m (3 ft 3 in–16 ft 5 in) tall. Its leathery leaves resemble holly and the stems and twigs have a thickened, corky appearance. The flowers, borne in late spring, are yellow.

Oregon-grape is used in gardens and natural landscaping similarly to barberry, as a plant suited for low-maintenance plantings and loose hedges. Oregon-grape is resistant to summer drought, tolerates poor soils, and does not create excessive leaf litter. Its berries attract birds.

The small purplish-black fruits, which are quite tart and contain large seeds, are included in smaller quantities in the traditional diets of Pacific Northwest aboriginal peoples, mixed with Salal or another sweeter fruit. Today they are sometimes used to make jelly, alone or mixed with salal.[1] Oregon grape juice can be fermented to make wine, similar to European barberry wine folk traditions, although it requires an unusually high amount of sugar.[2] The inner bark of the larger stems and roots of Oregon-grape yield a yellow dye, the berries give purple dye.[3] As the leaves of Oregon-grape are holly-like and resist wilting, the foliage is sometimes used by florists for greenery and a small gathering industry has been established in the Pacific Northwest.


Mahonia aquifolium is a native plant on the North American west coast from British Columbia to northern California, occurring in the understory of Douglas-fir forests and in brushlands. It is the state flower of Oregon.

In some areas outside its native range, Oregon-grape has been classified as an invasive exotic species that may displace native vegetation.[4][5][6][7]

Medicinal use

Some Plateau Indian tribes used Oregon-grape to treat dyspepsia.[8]

The plant is used medicinally by herbalists.

Oregon-grape root is commonly used medicinally as an effective alternative to the threatened goldenseal. Both plants similarly contain the alkaloid berberine, known as an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial used in the treatment of infection.[9]

Mahonia aquifolium is also known to be capable of treatment on inflammatory skin diseases such as Eczema and Psoriasis.[10][11][12] Other actions may include alterative, diuretic, laxative and tonic.[13]

Recent studies indicate that M. aquifolium contains a specific multidrug resistance pump inhibitor (MDR Inhibitor) named 5'methoxyhydnocarpin (5'MHC) which works to decrease bacterial resistance to antibiotics and antibacterial agents.[14]


1. ^ Pojar, Jim; MacKinnon, Andy, eds (1994). Plants of Coastal British Columbia: including Washington, Oregon & Alaska, rev. ed.. Vancouver: Lone Pine Publishing. p. 95. ISBN 978-1-55105-532-9.
2. ^ Henderson, Robert K. (2000). The Neighbourhood Forager. Toronto, Ontario: Key Porter Books. p. 111. ISBN 1-55263-306-3.
3. ^ Bliss, Anne (1993). North American Dye Plants, rev. and enl. ed.. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-934026-89-0.
4. ^ Introduced Shrubs of Birmingham and the Black Country
5. ^ North Carolina Botanical Garden / Conservation / Plants to Avoid in the Southeastern United States
6. ^ Plants to Avoid in the Southeastern United States Tennessee Invasive Exotic Plant List
7. ^ TN Invasive Exotic Plant List
8. ^ Hunn, Eugene S. (1990). Nch'i-Wana, "The Big River": Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land. University of Washington Press. p. 352. ISBN 0-295-97119-3.
9. ^ Howstuffworks "Oregon Grape: A Profile of an Alternative Medicine"
10. ^ Donsky, Howard; Don Clarke. "Relieva, a Mahonia Aquifolium Extract for the Treatment of Adult Patients With Atopic Dermatitis". http://www.americantherapeutics.com/pt/re/ajt/abstract.00045391-200709000-00008.htm;jsessionid=HnrPMH6R3JhTFQNQphZtJqdp7608hvDvWLt5sm4Wj7pW52SdRL4W!1821113646!181195629!8091!-1. Retrieved 4 November 2007.
11. ^ Rackova L, Oblozinsky M, Kostalova D, Kettmann V, Bezakova L (2007). "Free radical scavenging activity and lipoxygenase inhibition of Mahonia aquifolium extract and isoquinoline alkaloids". J Inflamm (Lond) 4: 15. doi:10.1186/1476-9255-4-15. PMID 17634120.
12. ^ Bernstein, Steve et al.. "Treatment of Mild to Moderate Psoriasis with Relieva, a Mahonia aquifolium Extract-A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study". http://www.americantherapeutics.com/pt/re/ajt/abstract.00045391-200603000-00007.htm;jsessionid=Hnyhk0cdJylLgL8fyNyYdpmy1WpycJvHGpLKFWpfFhX849clNk8j!1821113646!181195629!8091!-1. Retrieved 4 November 2007.
13. ^ Applied Health Oregon Grape
14. ^ Stermitz FR, Lorenz P, Tawara JN, Zenewicz LA, Lewis K (February 2000). "Synergy in a medicinal plant: antimicrobial action of berberine potentiated by 5'-methoxyhydnocarpin, a multidrug pump inhibitor". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97 (4): 1433–7. doi:10.1073/pnas.030540597. PMID 10677479.

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