Oregon Grape (Mahonia Aquifolium Pursh Nutt)
Range: SE Alaska- N.California, E.into Western Montana & Alberta Canada,into S. Colorado.Usually found in Douglas Fir forests, but also in brushlands.The leaves are pinnately compound, much like the Holly (it is related),shiny. It is an evergreen species, the leaves often turning to an orange-purple color in fall/ winter.Woody & perennial (blooms year after year),it can reach 2-10' in height, and as wide as 5'.It blooms yellow clusters in early spring, followed by bluish- black berries, which are very bitter.
Medicinal properties/ uses:
The Native Americans used this plant to treat dyspepsia.
The Oregon Grape gets it's distinctively bitter taste due to the high alkaloid content of it's roots/ berries, the most notable being berberine. Some will experience nausea upon ingesting the 1st few doses, but usually this goes away. The alkaloids stimulate the flow of bile, which loosens the stool, can help prevent and sometimes even relieve constipation, diverticulosis,gallbladder disease and hemorrhoids. It can also prove valuable to those with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
This powerhouse shrub also contains anti-biotic & anti-cancer properties! Berberine & the other alkaloids within it have been clinically shown to kill a wide range of microbes, and in human studies, speeding recovery from giardia,candida,viral diarrhea and cholera. But it doesn't stop there! Chinese studies have shown that another specific alkaloid,berbamine, helps protect bone marrow, and promotes its recovery from chemotherapy and radiation therapy from cancer. Oregon grape is taken as a tea or tincture.To make tea: simmer 1-2 teaspoons dried, coarsely chopped root in 1 cup water 10-15 minutes; strain out the remaining root (or you can it it if you are brave!)and sip the liquid before each substantial meal. A tincture is an alcohol extract of the root. (Many articles on making tinctures can be found by Googling). Once you have made the tincture, mixmix 1/2- 1 teaspoon in 2-4 ounces water and sip before meals.The alcohol content being a problem in doses this small is low, so no worries.
To store: Dried Oregon Grape MUST be kept away from light/ heat! The medicinal properties degrade quickly if left in such.Still, dried it will remain potent for about a year. Tincture of this can last indefinitely if stored under the same conditions as dry.
Information via: Wikipedia, http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/naturalmedicine/medical-uses-for-oregon-grape-ga.htm and Northwest Foraging- the classic guide to edible plants of the Pacific Northwest by Doug Benoliel