Berberis aquifolium

Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Other common names: Barberry, Mountain Berry, Holly-leaf barberry, Oregon grapeholly, Jaundice berry

Ecology & How to Locate

You will find Oregon grape in just about every landscape in the Klamath mountains except growing near or in water.  Berberis aquifolium can grow in full sun to part shade and grows in both loamy and compact soil types.  You can also find Oregon grape growing from the coast to the Cascades, but tends to grow in larger patches in the Klamaths and close to the coast.  

How to Identify

Flower – Yellow sepals and petals, sepals often in 2 or more whorls (Lowermost whorl can be light green, petals in parts of 3’s and notched at the tip, stamens in parts of 3’s and opposite the petals, stigma is large and is disk shaped


Berry - Blue and grape like (small in size), tastes are bitter, acrid,  sour and sweet


Stem – Woody, outer bark will be grey to brown on larger species, inner bark will be yellow to gold indicating the presence of one the plants active alkaloids (Berberine), bitter to taste.


Leaf – Evergreen, leathery, pinnately compound leaves, 3-19 leaflets, leaflets have sharp to spinulose margins, surfaces of leaflets often shiny but can be dull, 1-3 prominent veins originating at the base of leaflets, leaflets arranged on a single plane, petioles 2-4 cm long, some leaflets will often be turning red to yellow at all times of the year indicating they will fall off the plant soon.


Underground Stem and Root - Plants form lateral underground runners (in smaller patches, groups of plants are often connected underground),  the outer bark will be grey to brown, the inner bark with will be yellow to gold, bitter to taste


Parts used

Underground Stems collected year around, Aerial Stems collected year around, Ripe Berries collected mid-summer through fall, leaves collected year around

Edible uses

Little edible use, but some folks process the berries for jams, juices and spirits.

You can make a cold leaf infusion for a tasty Vitamin C rich beverage.

Medicinal uses

Bitter, Hepatic tonic, GI stimulant and tonifier, Cholagogue, Diuretic, topical and internal Anti-bacterial, Anti-microbial, Anti-protozoal, Anti-helminthic, Tones Bitter taste receptors and curves sweet cravings, eye wash for pink eye.

Other plants in bioregion with similar medicinal uses


Because it acts as a circulatory stimulant, it is not suggested during pregnancy [4]




The yellow flowers are some of the earliest on this landscape, they illuminate and dull spaces in the body that have formed over a long winter

The roots exude a beautiful spicy gold resin which excites the mind, lungs and heart.  

This is a plant that lifts the spirits and brings life to all cells in the body.


Bitter, cooling, drying, stimulating, & cleansing.


Harvesting & Preparations

Ethical Wildcrafting

Depending on the species, you can find Berberis in shade or sun, compact or loamy soil, and flat to hilly terrain.  Look for sustainable patches where you see 50 or more plants, harvest only 1-5% of a selected patch (These plants grow slow, so human impact from over-harvesting should be a serious consideration for the wildcrafter). If you are working in compact soil, then wait for the rain season to come to loosen soil. If soil is loamy, year around harvest will work just fine.  

Method 1 - Harvesting the Aerial stem.  Here you can select plants and prune accordingly, prune back to a leaf node.  This harvest method might be the best, because it is sustainable and is less impact to the environment overall.  Make sure to cut your fresh material the day of harvest(Once dry, oregon grape can become near impossible to cut).  Cut your fresh material into 1 to 2 inch sections and let dry. 

Method 2 - Harvesting the underground stem.  Here you would look for loamy soils and work in patches where Oregon Grape is the dominant plant (this way you avoid impacting other plant species).  Using a pick or a mattock, find the lateral roots, once you have unearthed a substantial section (generally from 1 foot to 3 feet), take a pruners or loppers and cut that section. Cut the fresh material into 1-2 inch sections, later on you can choose to leave in sections and process into a tincture or tea, or you can powder the material before processing, or have the powder in your first aid kit for topical use.

Conservation considerations

Preparation Methods