Oregon Grape Root


Also known as

Mahonia aquifolium and Berberis aquifolium. 


Oregon grape root is a tall, evergreen, flowering shrub that grows among the firs, spruces, and pines of the mountainous American Northwest. The state flower of Oregon, Oregon grape root bears fruit but "grapes" is an inaccurate description. Oregon grape root is a useful substitute for goldenseal, which has been over harvested in the wild. It is not as fussy about its habitat than the closely related barberry, and easier to find. As a purely bitter herb, Oregon grape root is used easily with Traditional Chinese Medicine, having the same function and only a little less potency than coptis. Like coptis, Oregon grape root is useful in treating the various symptoms of "damp heat," such as: ´ Abdominal fullness and distention ´ Constipation alternating with diarrhea ´ Foul-smelling loose stools, ´ General feeling of heaviness, ´ Nausea, ´ Reduced appetite, ´ Reduced thirst although with the sensation of dry mouth, ´ Sticky, thick, and yellow or green mucous discharges, ´ Watery, oozing skin eruptions, and ´ "Red" symptoms: red tongue, hot flushes, bad temper, rapid pulse. (Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine are likely to note that Oregon grape root is less appropriate than coptis in treating syndromes in which there is a "deficiency of Yin," an inherent tendency to lose fluids.) Oregon grape root's best-researched application in modern herbal medicine, however, is in the treatment of chronic inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis. 


Oregon grape root contains berberine, also found in barberry, coptis, and goldenseal. The herb also contains phytochemicals with similar activity, including columbamine, hydrastine, jatrorrhizine, oxyacanthine, and tetrahydroberberine, as well as tannins. It does not contain the range of nutrient vitamins and minerals found in barberry. 

Parts Used


Typical Preparations

Topical creams containing 10% tincture of Oregon grape root. Also used as tea, tincture and it may be administered in capsule form. Proper dosage is important:

  • Tea: 1 to 2 grams (1/2 to 1 teaspoon) of dried root steeped in 150 ml (approximately 2/3 of a cup) of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes three times daily. This is not the same dosage as for the chopped herb.
  • Tincture: 3 to 6 ml. (1/2 to 1-1/2 tsp) three times daily (but no more than three doses of any kind of Oregon grape root product per day).
  • For skin disorders: 10% tincture in ointment, applied to the skin three times daily


Traditional herbal medicine uses Oregon grape root to stop diarrhea. It slows the passage of stool through the small intestine, but it also keeps bacteria from implanting themselves in the lining. Oregon grape root may also give the immune system a mild boost by encouraging phagocytosis, the engulfing and digesting of bacteria by the white blood cells known as microphages. Oregon grape root and other herbs that contain berberine are scientifically proven to protect against bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoans, helminthes (worms), and chlamydia. Conditions treated by Oregon grape root include bacterial diarrhea, intestinal parasites, and ocular trachoma. Oregon grape root may increase blood platelet counts and counteract the proliferation of cancerous tumors of the bladder and colon. It has a sedative effect on the smooth muscles lining the digestive tract and can relieve stomach cramps and abdominal pain. Why use Oregon grape root as a whole herb? Why not just take a berberine concentrate? Oregon grape root contains tannins that cross link proteins in the linings of the nose and throat, or in the digestive tract, to seal them against infection. The tannins may also explain the herb's usefulness in treating psoriasis, a condition characterized by the over-rapid multiplication of cells in the skin. In at least one clinical study, a cream containing Oregon grape root eased inflammation, irritation, and itching. 


Adults should limit use of Oregon grape root or any other herb containing berberine (barberry, coptis, or goldenseal) to seven consecutive days at a time, waiting at least a week before using the herb again. This gives the natural, helpful bacteria of the intestine a chance to recover. Taking vitamin B6 supplements can give infectious bacteria resistance to the antibacterial toxins in the herb. Do not take Oregon grape root if you are taking antibiotics for diarrhea. The herb is not a problem for nursing mothers unless the baby has jaundice, however it should not be used while pregnant.


For educational purposes only. This information 
has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

This information courtesy of MOUNTAIN ROSE HERBS, with full, written permission for reuse.  

For further traditional information concerning OREGON GRAPE ROOT , please visit this excellent resource fromBotanical.com.  Used with full, written permission.