Oregon Grape - Mahonia spp.

Photo of Sharol Tilgner

This Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.) monograph is an excerpt from the 1999, first edition of Dr. Sharol's book "Herbal Medicine From The Heart of The Earth." You can purchase the 2020, third edition of this book with an expanded materia medica/monograph section, herbal formulas and directions on making herbal products in Dr. Sharol's Book Store. You receive free shipping in the USA.

Oregon grape root and barberry - Mahonia spp. in the Berberidaceae or Barberry family. Photo is Mahonia aquifolium.

Part used: Root bark and stem bark.

Taste/smell: Bitter, astringent.

Tendencies: Drying, cooling.

Dosage: Decoction: 1 teaspoon of bark per cup of water; or 1:5 dry root bark liquid extract: 10-60 drops 1-4 times per day.

Mental picture and specific indications: Oregon grape root should be considered when there is a picture of atonic mucous membranes, lack of strength and fatigue, especially when associated with digestive problems.The individual may have nausea and hunger both after eating. It is specifi c for low grade internalized heat or infectious conditions, headaches starting in the occiput and spreading over the right side of the head to the eyes, with bulging blood vessels in the temples and the tongue thickly coated with yellowish-brown coating.

Use: (a) Astringent, (b) Anti-microbial, (c) Alterative, (d) Vulnerary, (e) Anti-inflammatory, (f) Cholagogue, (g) Choleretic, (h) Stomachic, (i) Mild laxative, (j) Antioxidant, (k) Anti-tumor activity, (l) Supports the immune system, (m) Promotes elimination of catabolic residues.

Oregon grape root is used for a sluggish gastrointestinal system, respiratory tract and urinary tract, infectious conditions of the stomach and intestines, liver congestion, chronic cholecystitis, skin conditions like psoriasis, dry eczema, acne and rheumatism.

Berberine, found in gold thread (Coptis chinensis), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and oregon grape root (Mahonia spp.), is a choleretic shown to triple bile secretion for 1.5 hours and is effective against bacteria, yeast and protozoa. Clinically, berberine has been used to treat giardia, cholera, amebiasis, as well as visceral and cutaneous leishmaniasis. Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) extract inhibited RC mammary carcinoma in mice.

Contraindications: Mahonia is contraindicated in pregnancy due to the uterine stimulants berberine, palmatine, jatorrhizine and columbamine.  It is also contraindicated in jaundiced infants and the prenatal period in general. There is some question of berberine causing bradycardia and possible neurotoxicity.  It does appear that in certain compromised cardiovascular patients, bradycardia could become an issue. Regarding neurotoxicity, there are many research articles showing neuroprotective effects from berberine, but there are also some studies that show it may have neurotoxic effects.  With so many people using berberine rather than the whole herb, I would caution them to pay attention to these possible issues. I have personally never felt comfortable using any of the berberine containing herbs for long periods of time. However, they are quite useful for acute and subacute conditions.

If you are looking for directions on making teas or tinctures, please see our "Making Herbal Products" page.

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Copyright 1999 by Sharol Tilgner, N.D. (ISBN 1-881517-02-0) - all rights reserved.

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