Berberis nervosa


Common name: Oregon grape, mountain Oregon grape, low Oregon grape, and long-leaved Oregon grape[1],[2],[3],[4]  

Scientific name: Berberis nervosa

Plant family: Berberidaceae, Barberry Family

Another family name is Mahonia[4]


Habitat: Berberis nervosa is a low growing evergreen shrub with stems ¼ to 2 ft tall, showing scars of proceeding year’s growth.  The leaves are long, slender and have yellow flowers sometimes tinged with rose or purplish.  The fruit is a berry like blueberries and has a similar blue ranging from dark blue to purple and has a white waxy coating.[1]  The name of the plant nervosa means veined or sinewy which explains the given name after looking at the shape and style of the leaves.  Has a sporadic blooming cycle of about 6 months.  The plant is easy to tell by the flowers because they all have 6 petals, sepals, and stamens, and start to bloom around early spring and on from there.[5]  The leaves are oval looking with rounded halves and pointed tips edging the leaf.

Range: Berberis nervosa can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest, usually in areas with a high rate of precipitation.  Common on the Coast range and in the Cascades, it prefers shady areas.  It grows in coniferous woods at all elevations in the Columbia Gorge, usually in a mixture of moist coastal and dry interior forests.[3] The plant often occurs in the light of such low intensity that the plants do not bloom, or produce only a few bleached and pallid flowers.  Regardless of whether or not the plant has flowers, the leaves are very distinct.[5]

Historical and Contemporary Uses

Berberis nervosa has a very distinct and bitter taste due to its presence of alkaloids, including berberine which is used for various purposes such as digestive track issues, skin conditions, tuberculosis, hepatitis, kidney disease, and urinary track disorder. Berberine may kill many types of bacteria, including E. coli, and prevent bacteria from adhering to bladder lining. Oregon grape contains tannins that cross link proteins in the linings of the nose and throat, or in digestive track, to seal them against infection.[6],[7],[8],[9] Due to its activity as a cholagogue (increases the flow of bile), Berberis nervosa has been used by native Indians for years for digestive issues and is still used today. Oregon grape also contains a natural antibiotic.[6]

[1] Gilkey, Helen. Handbook of NW Flowering Plants. Corvallis: Oregon State College, 1946. 111. Print.

[2] Hankins, Leslie. Wild Flowers of the Pacific Coast. 3rd. USA: Binfords and Mort Publishers, 1973. 119. Print

[3] Jolley, Russ, and . Wildflowers of the Columbia Gorge. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1988. 154. Print.

[4] Kozloff, Eugene. Plants of Western Oregon, Washington, and B.C.. Portland: Timber Press, 2005. 148. Print.

[5] Clark, Lewis. Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest. 3rd. British Columbia: Harbour Publishing, ’73,’76,’98. 173, 183, 191. Print

[6] Christensen, Stephen. “Oregon Grape as a Medicine.” Natural Medicine. Discovery Communications, LLC, n.d. Web. 9 Oct 2011. <>.

[7] Discovery Health, . “Medical Uses for Oregon Grape.” Discovery Health. Discovery Communications, LLC, n.d. Web. 9 Oct 2011. <>.

[8] Annie’s Remedy, . “Oregon Grape Mahonia aquifolium .” Annie’s Remedy. Annie’s Remedy, n.d. Web. 9 Oct 2011. <>.

[9] Wikipedia, . “Oregon-grape.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 9 Oct 2011. <>.

Photo credit:  Berberis nervosa. DWARF OREGON GRAPE