OREGON GRAPE, Berberis aquifolia
When I was a young boy, about ten years old, I got to spend part of my summer vacations on a ranch up in South-eastern Idaho. It was there that I got to meet and know many plants and trees that have become the herbs that are my friends today. One of these strange little plants was the Oregon grape.
It has a shiny, bright-green leaf like holly. The yellow flowers that bloom in May turn into a purple berry in the late summer. You could find them growing on barren, windswept hills and knolls, and in shale where even sagebrush refused to grow. Most Oregon grapes will grow up to two feet tall, although some species are low, creeping shrubs. The leaf is tough and leather-like, oblong and smooth with spines that protrude around the scallops like the leaf of holly. Most species are evergreen and keep their green leaves all year; however, the leaves on a few species of the berberis genera turn color in the fall and like most deciduous plants, the leaves fall off in the water. Other common names for the Oregon grape are mountain grape, rocky Mountain grape, holly leafed barberry, California barberry, wild Oregon grape, and many others.
Oregon grape is a hepatic stimulant and is best known for its healing effect upon the liver. It is also known as a blood purifier. It helps to stimulate the appetite and it promotes better digestion. As a cathartic, it is helpful to the bowel, as a tonic, it tones and ids the whole body, as a diuretic it aids the urinary tract. Oregon grape is good to help prevent bedwetting; it is healing to the lymphatics and skin tissue. Oregon grape is even helpful o those with rheumatic and arthritic problem. Oregon grape is used in Grandma’s herbal Liver formula.
The part of the Oregon grape that has the most medicinal value is the rhizome, or the horizontal root, the rootlets and the stems. The best time to collect them is in the late fall or early winter, when most of the strength of the plant has gone back down into the root. The bark of the root is brown and the inner rootstock is yellow. After the roots and stems have been gathered and cleaned, putting them in a paper bag is best and then let them dry. They are easily broken up afterwards. To make the tea, you take one teaspoon of the crushed roots and stems to a cup of water. Simmer for about twenty minutes, strain and cool. This herb tea can be taken alone, or it can be used with other herbs as a herbal blend.
According to Dr. Shook, the reason Oregon is so effective as a liver tonic is that it contains a good amount of berberine, as does the sister herb, barberry. The berberine in this plant helps to clean the old bile out of the liver and gall bladder, causing a mild laxative effect on the bowel. Berberine is also a bitter tonic. It stimulates digestive juices and helps in food assimilation. Dr. Christopher tells of a man who had severe pains from a gallstone attack. But he didn’t want an operation, so he was told to go on a three-day apple juice cleanse. He was to use a tea that included Oregon grape, barberry, dandelion and other herbs that are good for the liver. He was to keep the bowel clean, and after the first day, to take two tablespoons of olive oil three times a day. This purges all of the old bile out of the liver and gallbladder. In a few days, the man was feeling well and went back to work.
Dr. Christopher always used to say, “it is almost impossible to get cancer if the liver and the bowel are clean. It’s easier and better to prevent sickness than it is to try to overcome sickness.”
Such a little herb—such a big difference.