What Is Oregon Grape Root?
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is a species of flowering plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to western North America. It is an evergreen shrub with dark-green spiny leaves, and bright yellow flowers that grow in early spring, followed by dark bluish-black berries in the summer. These berries are edible but very tart. The root of the Oregon Grape plant is a popular herb that has commonly been used as a medicinal herb for various digestive issues.
What Is Oregon Grape Root Used For?
Oregon grape uses are diverse. The root and root-like stem (rhizome) of Oregon grape are used to make medicine. Oregon grape root is used to treat a wide variety of digestive health issues, including ulcers, stomach upset, GERD, and stomach infections. It is also used as a bitter tonic, a remedy for candidiasis, an internal treatment for various skin issues, and as a tonic to help cleanse the bowels.
Oregon grape root is a very bitter herb. Bitter herbs contain isoquinoline alkaloids that stimulate bile release from the liver and gallbladder, which in turn is supportive to the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system. These bitter compounds are responsible for the cholagogue (promotes the discharge of bile), choleretic (increase the volume of secretion of bile), and alterative (helps to restore the proper function of the body) properties of Oregon grape root, as well as for its antimicrobial effects.
Oregon grape's rich yellow color is also sometimes used as a natural dye for fabrics.
Oregon Grape Root Benefits: What are the Health Benefits of Oregon Grape Root?
Oregon grape root benefits are extensive, as this is truly a powerful medicinal plant. Oregon grape benefits the entire digestive system. Oregon grape benefits the the skin. Oregon grape benefits even your mood! It is powerfully antimicrobial, which is why one of the main Oregon grape uses is for treating infections.
Because of its powerful antimicrobial properties, however, it is important to understand that this is not an herb to use as a daily health supplement long-term. It is best used as a specific herbal medicine for healing specific conditions, meaning it is best use short-term and for a specific purpose.
Oregon Grape Root is Used for Treating Stomach Issues
Much of Oregon grape root’s medicinal activity is attributed to a bioactive chemical compound in the root called berberine. This compound has been extensively researched and has been shown to have many benefits for digestive health. The berberine in Oregon grape root may help to ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as other stomach issues like bloating, stomach aches, and gut inflammation.
Animal studies on berberine have shown that it helps to improve IBS symptoms and also aids with other stomach conditions like gut inflammation. Still, human research is lacking on the effects of Oregon grape root’s effect on gut inflammation. There is, however, promising human research on Oregon grape roots effect on IBS. In one study involving 196 people with IBS, those who received a berberine treatment experienced reductions in abdominal pain, diarrhea frequency, and overall IBS symptoms, compared with those on a placebo.
Oregon Grape Root is Used as an Anti-Microbial
Berberine, the active compound in Oregon grape, has potent antimicrobial activity. It is commonly used to treat bacterial infections and diarrhea. One study on Oregon grape root extract showed that it has antimicrobial activity against a variety of harmful strains of bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. There are many other studies that have yielded similar results, showing that berberine may combat E. coli, MRSA and other bacterial infections.
Oregon Grape Root is Used to Treat Candida
Oregon grape root may play an important role as an herbal remedy for treating candida infection (candidiasis). This is because compounds in Oregon grape root are strongly antifungal. Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by a yeast (a type of fungus) called Candida. There are many different species of Candida, and not all of them cause fungal infections. The most common one that does, however, is Candida albicans.
Candida yeast normally lives on the skin and inside the body, in places such as the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina, without causing any problems. If it grows out of control, however, or if it enters deep into the body (for example, the bloodstream or internal organs like the kidney, heart, or brain), Candida can cause infections that lead to a wide range of health issues.
People who suffer from Candida infections typically experience candida symptoms like oral thrush (a rash in the mouth or throat), tiredness and fatigue, recurring genital or urinary tract infections, digestive issues, sinus infections, skin and nail fungal infections, and joint pain. In more serious cases, Candida can spread to the blood (a condition known as invasive candidiasis) and can cause serious, and potentially even fatal, health issues.
Candida infections are notoriously hard to treat and in order to treat a Candida infection, one needs to undergo a strict anti-candida diet to ensure that they are not feeding the yeast, and then one must consume antifungal agents that help to kill the Candida fungus and restore it back to normal levels.
Oregon grape root is one herb that is commonly used for Candida infections because it contains powerful antifungal agents like berberine. In numerous studies, berberine extract has been shown to have significant antimicrobial activity against bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, and yeasts. Studies have also shown that berberine has a significant antifungal effect against the Candida albicans strains in particular, making it one of the best herbal remedies for treating Candidiasis. For this reason, Oregon Grape Root Extract is a key ingredient in our Candida Cleanse Tonic.
Oregon Grape Root is Used to Treat Skin Conditions
Oregon grape root has also been used to reduce symptoms associated with psoriasis, eczema, and several other skin conditions. Inflammatory skin conditions can be chronic and can occur anywhere on your body.
In one study, 32 people with psoriasis used an Oregon grape root topical cream on their rashes, and 63% of them reported that the cream worked as well or better than the typically prescribed pharmaceutical steroid creams. Another study found that people who used an Oregon grape root cream experienced a notable improvement in their psoriasis symptoms, which remained stable and didn’t require any follow-up treatment for 1 month.
Oregon grape root cream showed similar effects on people suffering from eczema. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. In a 3-month study, people suffering from eczema found great improvements in their symptoms after applying an Oregon grape root skin cream 3 times daily to the effected areas on their skin.
More research is needed on the effects of Oregon grape root on skin conditions, but current research shows great promise in its potential as a topical skin treatment.
Oregon grape root also works on skin conditions internally. Many skin conditions have a deeper underlying cause of inflammation, poor gut health, or fungal infection. Oregon grape root works on all three of these issues, making it a wonderful treatment for skin conditions both internally and topically.
Some of the numerous bioactive compounds in Oregon grape root have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce inflammation in the body. It’s bitter alkaloids stimulate bile production which helps to cleanse the liver and aid in digestion, and its high berberine content helps to kill the Candida albicans fungus, assisting in the treatment of candidiasis. Oregon grape root is truly a powerful plant for helping to reset the digestive system, and therefore, helping to bring the body back into balance.
Oregon Grape Root is Used to Help Improve Your Mood
Several interesting studies have indicated that berberine, one of the primary active compounds in Oregon grape root, may alleviate symptoms of chronic stress and depression. The brain releases key hormones associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. Two of the primary hormones associated with our feelings of happiness are serotonin and dopamine.
Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. This hormone impacts your entire body and enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.
Dopamine is another key hormone made by the body. Your nervous system uses dopamine to send messages between nerve cells, which is why it is sometimes called a chemical messenger. Dopamine plays an essential role in how we feel pleasure. It's also big part of our unique human ability to think and plan.
In one study involving mice, a berberine was shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine by 19% and 52%, respectively. As these hormones help regulate your mood, there is evidence that berberine may be useful as a supplement for improving and stabilizing your mood.
Oregon Grape Root is Used to Help Ease Heartburn
Berberine has potent anti-inflammatory effects that may help prevent heartburn and related esophageal damage. Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the acid in your stomach rises up into your esophagus. Heartburn can cause a painful, burning sensation in your throat or chest.
A study involving rats with acid reflux found that those treated with berberine had less damage to their esophagus than those treated with omeprazole, a common pharmaceutical heartburn treatment. While research of Oregon grape root’s use for heartburn is limited, the fact that one study showed berberine was more effective than a common pharmaceutical is promising for use of this herb as a natural heartburn supplement and alternative to a pharmaceutical drug.
What are the Active Compounds in Oregon Grape Root?
The more researchers learn about the health benefits of medicinal plants, the more clear it becomes that the medicinal benefit of these plants lies largely in the unique bioactive compounds that they contain. These compounds exhibit different effects on the human body and can provide unique medicinal value.
Oregon grape root is a plant with very unique chemical constituents. Its primary bioactive compounds include a variety of alkaloids, including berberine, berbamine, berberastine, hydrastine, canadine, corypalmine, meconine, xanthopucine, hydrastidine, and oxyacanthine.
Of these active chemical compounds berberine, berbamine and oxyacanthine stand out the most for their medicinal value.
Berberine: already mentioned extensively in this article, is a chemical compound found in many plants. It is defined as a “quaternary ammonium salt from the protoberberine group of benzylisoquinoline alkaloids.” It has been researched extensively for its numerous health benefits, primarily for its actions on the digestive system.
Berbamine: is a bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloid that has shown anti-arrhythmic (used to suppress abnormal rhythms of the heart), anti-hypertensive (used to treat hypertension/high blood pressure) and immunosuppressive activities. It has also been investigated for its in vitro anti-inflammatory action by hindering the gene expression of inflammatory mediators.
Oxyacanthine: is a bitter crystalline alkaloid that has shown strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Research shows it is effective for inhibiting lipid peroxidation, the process in which free radicals "steal" electrons from the lipids in cell membranes, resulting in cell damage.
Is Oregon Grape Root Safe?
Oregon grape root has been used medicinally for centuries, and modern research also verifies that it is a safe and effective herbal medicine for most people. Due to its strong antimicrobial activities, however, it is not recommended to consume Oregon grape root long term, as over time it may disturb the gut microbiome’s delicate balance of gut bacteria.
It is more intended for us in treating stomach conditions and fungal infections, but not as a daily medicine for preventative use. Furthermore, children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are recommended to avoid using Oregon grape root due to lack of safety information for these groups. Notably, berberine, an active compound in Oregon grape, can cross the placenta and cause contractions.
Oregon Grape Root Bioavailability
Bioavailability is a measure of how much a substance is able to access the circulation after digestion, and it depends on absorption (how much we get it) and secretion (how much we get out). In other words, just because we consume something, it doesn’t mean we are actually getting anything from what we consumed or receiving the benefits from it. It all depends on how well we digest and absorb the nutrients in what we consume. The more bioavailable something is, the better able we are to absorb the nutrients from it.
Research shows that the berberine compound, the primary active compound in Oregon grape root, has a very low rate of absorption. One study showed that the typical oral bioavailability of berberine is below 1%. The study noted that “some factors such as first-pass effect in the intestine, interaction with P-glycoprotein (P-gp) pumps and high extraction and distribution in the liver are involved to its poor oral bioavailability.”
This poses an issue with using berberine for medicinal use. It has incredible properties and has been shown to exhibit numerous health benefits, but its bioavailability is quite low. Due to this, it is important that when consuming Oregon grape root, that one find a product that has an effective extraction method that optimizes its bioavailability.
Our Candida Cleanse tonic, for example, features Oregon grape root as one of its primary ingredients due to its antifungal properties, and we use a therapeutic dose extraction method, extracting our herbs in organic cane alcohol. Through our formulation process, we significantly increase the rate of absorption, as well as the effectiveness of the dosage, of Oregon grape root along with the beneficial effects of the berberine compound.†
Moreover, our Oregon grape root is sustainably wild harvested, and all of the herbs that we use in our products are of the highest quality we can source, being either wild harvested or grown organically and biodynamically on our own farms. When it comes to herbal products, you want to be sure that you are getting the highest quality herbs you can find and that they are extracted and formulated properly. Truly, quality and formulation make all the difference when it comes to the effectiveness and potency of an herbal supplement.
Oregon grape can be found in abundance in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. If you live in this region, you can learn to harvest your own Oregon grape root to make medicine out of. In the Pacific Northwest, two different varieties of Oregon grape are found—tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) and dwarf Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa).
Tall Oregon grape (M. aquifolium) is found at elevations below 4000 ft. and grows in shaded areas or areas with partial sun. It is usually around 2‐5 ft. tall, but it can grow up to 15 ft. Oregon grape has composite leaves with holly‐like leaflets, small yellow flowers and blue‐black berries. It has long, straight roots that can grow up to 3 inches thick.
One key way to identify Oregon grape, aside from its notable holly-like leaves and blue berries, is by peeling back its inner bark and checking to see if the color is a bright yellow. This bright yellow color is due to the active compound berberine, from which Oregon grape gets its many medicinal uses.
Mahonia aquifolium is the preferred species of Oregon grape among medicinal herb buyers due to the rich yellow color of its bark and because of the ease in processing. Dwarf Oregon grape (M. nervosa) can be found in Douglas‐fir and Western red cedar forests in shaded areas and areas with partial sun. It only grows to 1‐2 ft. (hence the name Dwarf Oregon Grape) and has compound leaves emerging from a single, short stem, yellow flowers, and dark blue berries. Its roots are thinner than M. aquifolium and more spindly, and are also less brightly
yellow on the inside. Chemical analysis, however, shows that it has similar amounts of berberine to Mahonia aquifolium.
How to Harvest Oregon Grape Root
To harvest Oregon grape root, select a site that has many plants for harvest and avoid sites where the Oregon grape plant is sparse. Try to harvest larger plants, giving the smaller plants a chance to grow. Make sure to avoid sites where pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals or toxins may be present.
Oregon grape roots are best harvested in the late autumn or winter, though they can be harvested year round. To harvest, pull the plant up from the base of the stem and clip as much root as can be lifted from the soil. Brush off any soil or debris that may be on the root, being extra careful not to damage the outer root bark. Keep the stems intact or at least to 3 ft. in length. You can also harvest the stems of Oregon grape along with the root, as the inner bark of the stems also contains the same compounds as the roots.
Once collected, separate the stems and leaves from the roots. Then, using a knife or other sharp tool (some people even use their fingernails), remove the outer bark from the inner bark. The bright yellow inner stem bark is what will be used for making medicine.
How to Make Oregon Grape Root Tincture
To make a tincture with Oregon grape root, finely chop the bark/roots, then weigh them with a scale. For every 1 part herb by weight, use 2 parts alcohol by volume, For example, if you have 3 ounces of herb, you will use 6 ounces of alcohol. Typically, 80-100 proof vodka is recommended.
Place the Oregon grape and alcohol in a glass mason jar and cover it with a tight-fitting lid. Let it sit for at least 2 weeks, stirring occasionally, then strain with a muslin cloth or cheese cloth, squeezing out as much liquid as you can. Discard the herb then place the alcohol tincture in a glass bottle for storage. Amber dropper bottles work well because you can easily determine a drop dose. The typical dosage for Oregon grape root tincture is 30-45 drops 2-3 times a day.
Dry herb tincture can be made by mixing 1 part dried herb by weight with 5 parts alcohol by volume, following the same directions as above.
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), also known as holly-leaved berberry, is a species of flowering plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to western North America. The root and root-like stem (rhizome) of Oregon grape are used to make medicine. Oregon grape root is used to treat a wide variety of digestive health issues, such as ulcers, stomach upset, GERD, and stomach infections. It is also used as a bitter tonic, a remedy for candidiasis, an internal treatment for various skin issues, and as a tonic to help cleanse the bowels.
Oregon grape root is a very bitter herb, containing isoquinoline alkaloids that stimulate bile release from the liver and gallbladder, which in turn is supportive to the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system.
Oregon grape root has numerous health benefits. Research shows that Oregon grape root may help treat stomach issues, is used as an antimicrobial and antifungal agent, may help to treat candida and parasite infections, is helpful for treating skin conditions, may help to improve your mood by enhancing the production of serotonin and dopamine, and may help to ease heartburn.
The medicinal benefits of Oregon grape root are largely attributed to its content of bitter alkaloids and bioactive compounds, namely berberine, as well as berbamine and oxyacanthine. Oregon grape root has been used medicinally for hundreds of years and is generally considered to be a safe herb, though it is not recommended for long term use due to its strong antimicrobial properties. It also not recommended for use for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Native to Western North America, this spiky evergreen shrub is truly an incredible plant with a lot to offer. Its chemical constituents show great medicinal value, and it has a long history of use in traditional herbalism. Modern research is also revealing its therapeutic potential and use as an alternative to harsher pharmaceutical medications.