Oregon grapes (Mahonia aquifolium) are indigenous to the Pacific North Western USA and up through Canada, they can be grown successfully in USDA zones 5-9. They grow on an evergreen shrub similar to Holly, in fact they are also referred to as holly grapes. The fruits look a lot like grapes, it is actually a berry. The taste is a shocker, they are very tart and at times a tad bitter.
The plant reaches anywhere from 3 – 6 feet in height with an equal spread . They produce vibrant yellow blooms in early spring which give way to clusters of Oregon grapes that ripen by late summer. The fruit itself, as stated is easily mistaken for a grape in appearance but not taste.
They will grow in sunlit areas or in full shade, a light partial shade is best. They thrive in slightly acidic soil rich in humus as is found in the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest – their native habitat. It is drought resistant and will tolerates poor soils, so long as it is well drained. Clay soils will not suffice, well drained is best.
Oregon grapes can be grown directly from seed or from cuttings. Cuttings are best taken in the fall from suckers that the plant prolifically produces at its base.
Seeds can be planted in either spring or fall. Seeds planted in the spring require 3 – 4 weeks of cold stratification before being sewn. Seeds planted in autumn can be sown directly into the ground as soon as the fruit is fully ripened. If starting from seed indoors a soil temperature of around 50 degrees F should be maintained until germination. Germination takes rough 5 – 6 weeks.
In landscaping scenarios, they serve well as a hedge. Although they are called Oregon grapes – they are not really grapes and do not grow on a vine. They grow on a holly like evergreen shrub that reaches about 3 -6 feet in height, perfect as a hedge when properly pruned to the desired shapes and contours.
The flowers and foliage are also aesthetically pleasing, the flowers are a brilliant yellow contrasted by the deep green leathery leaves.
The fruits, which are berries – not grapes are very tart, and encase fairly large seeds. They are used to make preserves, desserts and even wine with enough sugar or blended with other fruits higher in natural sugars.
Oregon Grape Recipes
Oregon grape root is an herbal medicine that is prepared as a tea, or a tincture. The tincture is also used to create a topical skin ointment for use against psoriasis.
Oregon grape root is used by herbalists for its purported ability to stimulate liver function, for blood cleansing and improving the flow of bile. Tinctures and Teas made from the roots are used to treat infectious stomach and intestinal ailments. It also functions as an antimicrobial.