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 closely related to grapes, but gets its name from the purple clusters of berries whose color and slightly dusted appearance is reminiscent of grapes. 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 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.
Oregon-grape grows to 1–5 m tall. Its leathery leaves resemble holly and the stems and twigs have a thickened, corky appearance. The flowers, borne in late spring, are an attractive yellow.
Oregon-grape is used in 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. 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. The inner bark of the larger stems and roots of Oregon-grape yield a yellow dye, the berries give purple dye. 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.
Oregon-grape 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.
Some Plateau Indian tribes used Oregon-grape to treat dyspepsia.
The plant is used medicinally by herbalists. 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.
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. Mahonia aquifolium is also known to be capable of treatment on inflammatory skin diseases such as Eczema and Psoriasis. Other actions may include alterative, diuretic, laxative and tonic.
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