Oregon Grape (Mahonia Aquifolium)
The Oregon-grape (Mahonia Aquifolium) is a species of evergreen shrub native to western North America and the state flower of Oregon. Its name comes from the densely clustered purplish berries that ripen in late Fall, rather than from being related to any true grapes. Its species name, aquifolium, means “holly-leaved”, referring to the Oregon-grape’s spiny edged leaves which resemble that of a holly plant. These features lead some to refer to the Oregon-grape as the Oregon grape-holly or Oregon holly-grape in order to separate it from both grapes and hollies.
In early summer the Oregon-grape becomes covered in clusters of small yellow flowers with six petals which add to the beauty of the dark green and reddish leaves. The attractive coloration and evergreen nature of the Oregon-grape make it a great choice for landscaping in the Northwest, with the added benefit of attracting local berry-eating wildlife, such as songbirds, in the Fall.
The berries can also be eaten by people, although they have large seeds and are very tart. Most often they are made into jelly, with plenty of sugar, or traditionally mixed with the sweeter berries of the salal (gaultheria shallon) by native Pacific Northwest tribes like the Haida. Some people use the Oregon-grape as a natural herbal remedy, but like with all natural remedies careful research and advice from your doctor is warranted, especially since there are more than one kind of mahonia.
If eating the tart berries is not to your taste, the Oregon-grape can also be used as a natural dye. The berries yield a beautiful purple dye that can both be used to color yarn or cloth, while the root of the plant makes a wonderful yellow that can be seen by gently scraping off the bark of the plant.