Walking around the property yesterday, I discovered we have patches of Oregon Grape Plants (Mahonia aquifolium) growing. It is also known as “Holly Grape” and is related to the Barberry Family.
Don’t let the name fool you, the fruit is a bluish-purple berry, that grows in a cluster like grapes, but the fruit of the plant is a berry not a grape. The plant these berries grow on is a low-growing bush that doesn’t usually get any taller than three feet. The leaves resemble Holly.
This Oregon State flower is found in the Pacific Northwest from as far south as California and as far as Northern BC, Canada. This plant really likes mountainous regions and can also be found beside rivers and streams.
Where does the name Mahonia Aquifolium comes from – the name Mohonia is from a horticulturalist by the name of Bernard McMahon, who was Irish born. He collected plants during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Aquifolium means holly-leaved.
The inner layer of bark on the roots and stems of the Mohonia Aquifolium plant creates a really nice bright yellow dye.
Now that we know this plant is growing around the property, what benefit can the Oregon Grape have for us?
Oregon Grape Uses
Root and stem – the root and stem of this plant are used to make medicines
The roots and stems have been used for a long time by the Native people as a medicine. The Northwest Native Tribes used this plant as a laxative, a blood tonic and to help with upset stomach.
Herbalists use the root to help stimulate liver function which helps to improve the flow of bile.
Teas were made from the roots and stems and used to treat infections and clean wounds. Oregon Grape contains Berberine which is an antimicrobial.
Teas or Tinctures were made for the medicinal use of this plant.
The roots can be used to dye clothing, the first people that came to North America used this plant as it’s primary dye. It was used to dye clothing and baskets. To make the dye the roots were boiled in water.
Berries – the berries that grow on this plant can be used to make jelly
Oregon Grape berries can be eaten raw or used for making jelly, jam and even wine. They berries are very tart but nice and juicy.
The berries have seeds in them so they do make a better jelly than jam.
When making wine with the berries, maybe try fermenting them with honey for a Mead. I’ve made mead before and I think this berry would give the Mead a wonderful flavour, as well as having some health benefits.
A refreshing drink can be made with these berries by simply mashing the berries with sugar and water.
The Native Americans used the berries of the Oregon Grape Plant along with Salai, which is a sweeter berry. They made them into pemmican cakes.
Leaves – the Oregon Grape leaves can be eaten while out hiking as a snack or added to your salads. They are quite edible.
Harvesting Oregon Grape
Oregon Grape is one of those wonderful plants that can be harvested through most of the year. In the spring the flowers can be picked, then the berries throughout the summer months and the roots and stems can be harvested in the fall.
Oregon Grape Recipes
Oregon Grape Jelly
Harvest your berries when they are deep blue – they are a tart berry so if they are harvested to soon they will be VERY tart.
Using a standard Jelly Recipe you will need:
- 6 cups of cleaned berries
- 2 cups of water
- 1 oz Pectin
- 1 TBSP lemon Juice or the juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 3 cups Sugar
- Put the cleaned berries in a pot and add the 2 cups of water
- Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15-20 minutes
- Mash the berries to get all the juices
- Put the berries and juice through a food mill to remove all the seeds – you can squeeze through a jelly bag also.
- Then measure what you have left – should be around 3 cups
- Put the 3 cups of juice (add water if needed to make up 3 cups) into a pot on the stove
- add – the lemon juice and pectin and bring to a boil
- when boiling add the 3 cups of sugar and boil for one minute rapidly then remove from the stove.
- Place the jelly in sterilized canning jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.
One thing about Tinctures is that they remain potent for years 7-9 years.
Tinctures are usually preserved with vodka, brandy, pure grain alcohol or other liquors or even vinegar. Note: vinegar tinctures are not as potent as alcohol tinctures and do not last as long.
To make the Oregon Grape Tincture:
- finely chop the root and bark
- fill a glass jar to within an inch of the top of a jar (mason jar)
- fill the jar with your choice of alcohol and put a lid on the jar
- the next day check your mixture – you may have to top it up with alcohol
- label and date
- leave for six weeks and then decant
Decant – Simply means to pour off the alcohol and put it in dark glass bottles – I put mine in brown glass bottles with glass droppers.
Dosage: Tincture dosage is very widely variable. If you are making tinctures experiment with great caution and consult a herbalist.
A typical recipe for a tincture is:
- 30 grams of fresh material to 1 ounce of alcohol
- Let it sit for approximately 6 weeks.