Oregon Grape

Berberine: the power of color and bitter flavor

By Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, CNW, CDSP, CGP

How often do we connect flavor, color, and historical use of foods and herbs to wellness? Our choices are frequently unconscious, reflexive and based on convenience. For centuries, cultures have utilized natural compounds daily or seasonally for wellness. In Asian gastronomy, the selection of spices and foods involves far more color and flavors Westerners shy away from – bitter, dry and astringent.

Current science is expanding our understanding of traditional foods, herbs and gastronomy. Each year, more research supports what American Indian elders from the Pacific Northwest Nations have known about Oregon Grape’s health benefits for generations. Equally, the power of the Asian cultural herb turmeric and spices has been repeatedly documented in PubMed for an expansive list of health challenges. What do these two herbs have in common?

In the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon grape, a prickly low shrub, has been used in native gastronomy for over a millennium. From the pioneer’s perspective, the dark purple berries with a rich grape flavor were the only edible portion of the plant. High quantities of sugar were used to mask the astringency of the juice, which, like elderberry juice, contains high levels of polyphenols, vitamin C, tannins, and cyanidins. In contrast, for First Peoples, the bright yellow flowers, root, layer just under the bark and the bitter compounds of the leaves and flowers provided the actual value. Native Americans used concoctions, decoctions, and infusions of Oregon grape plant parts to treat a wide variety of human ailments, including syphilis, arthritis, and itchy eyes.  Oregon grape is a medicinal herb from the Berberidaceae plant family. It has a long history of use for skin irritations, indigestion, arthritis, and stomach ulcers from h.Pylori. Oregon grape, European Barberry, Goldenseal, Chinese Goldthread and Turmeric share a significant bioactive compound called berberine. This natural plant extract gives the Oregon grape and Turmeric its yellow color and anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.

Common foods containing berberine are barley, oats, wheat, barberry, and cranberries. Cooking or processing berberine-containing edible foods reduces their berberine content. For the most berberine benefit, consume in raw or minimally processed forms.

Berberine is an isoquinoline alkaloid with many pharmacological activities. Berberine is a bitter-tasting and yellow-colored chemical. Traditionally used to strengthen the heartbeat, kill bacteria, regulate blood glucose, and help reduce swelling. Berberine supplements are commonly used for diabetes, high cholesterol, fatty liver (metabolic syndrome), and high blood pressure.[1]  Berberine has been a part of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.[2] Traditionally, berberine-containing herbs have been used for burns, canker sores, and liver disease.

Berberine is particularly interesting because of its antidiabetic and antioxidant activities based on multiple biochemical pathways.[3]  Studies of berberine show growing efficacy in treating several metabolic health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and gut health.[4] Metabolic disorder is the most common cause of chronic diseases worldwide. There are more than 415 million people with diabetes in the world, and the number is expected to increase to 642 million by 2040.[5],[6]


The most notable benefits include:


An increase in the production of synthetic berberine. This compound is created in a laboratory and is chemically identical to the natural form found in plants. Synthetic berberine is often used in supplements and medications due to its lower cost and higher purity compared with natural sources. Herbal experts contend that synthetic berberine is not as effective as the natural form with its many synergistic compounds.

Berberine supplements are available through a wide selection of holistic providers and health food stores in 500mg capsules. Consumers can use up to 1,500mg daily, taken throughout the day. A certified or licensed holistic or herbalist provider should be consulted before use. Results show that using berberine for blood sugar support and weight control usually takes 2-3 months.[15]


Drug interactions with Berberine:

According to WebMD,[16] the following medications should not be taken with berberine.

WebMD Use with Caution


Additional information on Oregon Grape, Berberine and Tumeric can be found in Our Journey with Food 3rd edition (2023) and Our Journey with Food Cookery Book 2nd edition (2022), Available in eBook and Print 


[1] https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1126/berberine

[2] Funk, R. S., Singh, R. K., Winefield, R. D., Kandel, S. E., Ruisinger, J. F., Moriarty, P. M., & Backes, J. M. (2018). Variability in Potency Among Commercial Preparations of Berberine. Journal of dietary supplements, 15(3), 343–351. https://doi.org/10.1080/19390211.2017.1347227

[3] Purwaningsih, I., Maksum, I. P., Sumiarsa, D., & Sriwidodo, S. (2023). A Review of Fibraurea tinctoria and Its Component, Berberine, as an Antidiabetic and Antioxidant. Molecules, 28(3). https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules28031294

[4] Pacyga, K., Pacyga, P., Topola, E., Viscardi, S., & Duda-Madej, A. (2024). Bioactive Compounds from Plant Origin as Natural Antimicrobial Agents for the Treatment of Wound Infections. International journal of molecular sciences, 25(4), 2100. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms25042100

[5] Yaping Liang, Xiaojia Xu, Mingjuan Yin, Yan Zhang, Lingfeng Huang, Ruoling Chen, Jindong Ni, Effects of berberine on blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic literature review and a meta-analysis, Endocrine Journal, 2019, Volume 66, Issue 1, Pages 51-63, https://doi.org/10.1507/endocrj.EJ18-0109

[6] Global Burden of Metabolic Risk Factors for Chronic Diseases Collaboration (2014) Cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes mortality burden of cardiometabolic risk factors from 1980 to 2010: a comparative risk assessment. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol 2: 634–647.

[7] Akbar, M., Shabbir, A., Rehman, K., Akash, M. S. H., & Shah, M. A. (2021). Neuroprotective potential of berberine in modulating Alzheimer’s disease via multiple signaling pathways. Journal of food biochemistry, 45(10), e13936. https://doi.org/10.1111/jfbc.13936

[8] Akash, M. S. H., Akbar, M., Rehman, K., Shah, M. A., Panichayupakaranant, P., Imran, M., & Assiri, M. A. (2023). Biochemical profiling of berberine-enriched extract in aluminum chloride induced oxidative damage and neuroinflammation. Environmental science and pollution research international, 30(36), 85263–85275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-023-28392-1

[9] Naz, I., Masoud, M. S., Chauhdary, Z., Shah, M. A., & Panichayupakaranant, P. (2022). Anti-inflammatory potential of berberine-rich extract via modulation of inflammation biomarkers. Journal of food biochemistry, 46(12), e14389. https://doi.org/10.1111/jfbc.14389

[10] Shakeri, F., Kiani, S., Rahimi, G., & Boskabady, M. H. (2024). Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory effects of Berberis vulgaris and its constituent berberine, experimental and clinical, a review. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 38(4), 1882–1902. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.8077

[11] Zhang, C., Li, Z., Pan, Q., Fan, L., Pan, T., Zhu, F., Pan, Q., Shan, L., & Zhao, L. (2022). Berberine at sub-inhibitory concentration inhibits biofilm dispersal in Staphylococcus aureus. Microbiology (Reading, England), 168(9), 10.1099/mic.0.001243. https://doi.org/10.1099/mic.0.001243

[12] Xiao, Y., Wan, C., Wu, X., Xu, Y., Chen, Y., Rao, L., Wang, B., Shen, L., Han, W., Zhao, H., Shi, J., Zhang, J., Song, Z., & Yu, F. (2024). Novel small-molecule compound YH7 inhibits the biofilm formation of Staphylococcus aureus in a sarX-dependent manner. mSphere, 9(1), e0056423. https://doi.org/10.1128/msphere.00564-23

[13] Wang, H., Zhu, C., Ying, Y., Luo, L., Huang, D., & Luo, Z. (2017). Metformin and berberine, two versatile drugs in treatment of common metabolic diseases. Oncotarget, 9(11), 10135–10146. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.20807

[14] Lan, J., Zhao, Y., Dong, F., Yan, Z., Zheng, W., Fan, J., & Sun, G. (2015). Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 161, 69-81. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2014.09.049

[15] https://www.wholefoodsmagazine.com/articles/3269-herb-of-the-month-berberine

[16] https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1126/berberine

Oregon Grape – valuable plant to have around

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

For those who live in the Pacific Northwest, especially in the mountainous areas, we are familiar with the holly-like shrub with yellow blossoms and purple berries clusters – Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) or also known as mountain grape, and holly-leaved barberry. As the name might indicate, it is also the state flower for Oregon. The golden yellow roots, however, is where the medicinal qualities are highest and the portion most commonly harvested by wildcrafters and herbalists. The root is traditionally prepared in one of two methods – either steeping the root to create a tea or using the root to create a tincture.

This prickly shrub has a long history as a medicinal plant as well as a food source in the Native American tradition. Oregon grape has been used for skin ailments, herpes, acne, hepatitis, upper respiratory congestion, STD’s, arthritis, fever, gallbladder conditions, liver and eye ailments. According to WebMD, Oregon grape is used for stomach ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach upset, as a bitter tonic, to treat infections, and to cleanse the bowels.

Oregon grape root is renowned among herbalists for its ability to stimulate liver function, improve the flow of bile, and for blood cleansing. Containing a number of alkaloids and because of this, it has a very bitter taste Oregon Grape root can take some getting used to if taken straight. Taste aside, the positive benefits of these alkaloids far outweigh the brief discomfort and bitter taste. In China, where Oregon grape root is substituted for the herb coptis, studies have shown one of the alkaloids the plant contains, berbamine, can help strengthen bone marrow and assist chemotherapy and radiation patients in their recovery – not bad for a little shrub grown in the Pacific Northwest.

According to traditional and modern herbal sources, the bitterness of Oregon Grape also has a positive effect on the digestive tract. This herb has a sedative effect on the smooth muscles lining the digestive tract and stimulates the flow of bile, which loosens waste in the gut and helps prevent constipation, stomach cramps, diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, gallbladder disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Native American healers often use the stem of the tall Oregon Grape over the root of the dwarf variety. When berberine content is checked with a chromatograph, we see the wisdom of this practice. The stem contains a slightly higher berberine level and is less labor intensive to prepare. With dwarf plants digging washing and pealing are involved with the preparation of the herb. The use of stems from the tall Oregon grapes allows for one plant to provide decades of berberine collection without killing the plant.

While the medicinal qualities of the berries do not match that of the bark, they do however make a wonderful jelly. The berries are used to make jelly, wine, and juice. However, Oregon grape berries are quite tart, and it is customary to blend them with sweeter salal, and huckleberries. Deep blue-berries are usually ripe from July to September. In the same way, fine wine carries complex flavors, Oregon grape is earthy and rich with undertones of cherry, raspberry, and lemon. This wild food makes grape jelly pale in comparison. We always look forward to cornbread from a cast-iron skillet slathered with Kerry Gold Butter and a generous blop of Oregon Grape Jelly.

How to Making Oregon Grape or Elderberry Jelly
6 cups cleaned Oregon grape berries (or wild elderberries with these we are less picky about stems and leaves)
Place berries in a 4-8 quart stainless stockpot with 2 cups of water.
Bring contents to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 15 minutes. Use a potato masher, or immersion blender to mash berries releasing the juice.

Place a Foley food mill over a second stockpot. In 1 to 2 cup increments, turn the berries and juice through the food mill to separate the seeds. Remove the seeds from the mill before straining another batch.

Once finished, measure your juice/pulp. It should yield about 3 cups. Add a little water to bring your volume to 3 cups if necessary.

In a large pot (jelly and jam like to splash so we use a 6-quart pan to reduce mess) on the stove top, add 3 cups juice, 1 ounce of Certo (about ½ of a liquid package) or Ball pectin and the juice of ½ lemon. Stir well to incorporate pectin. Increase heat, stirring consistently to prevent scorching.

Bring juice to a rapid boil once more, add 3 cups organic sugar, return to a rolling boil – boil for exactly 1 minute. Any longer and you will have rock candy.
Remove from the burner.

Place the jelly in clean hot ½ pint canning jars, wipe the top of the jars clean, cover with lids, and can in a water bath for 10 minutes. If any lids do not seal, refrigerate for up to three weeks.

1. Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs & Natural Supplements 3rd edition by Linda Skidmore-Roth pp789-793
2. Pacific Northwest Foraging by Douglas Deur, Timber Press pp 38-39, 147-148
3. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon, Lone Pine Press pp 95
4. Cardiovascular Effects of Berberine: A Review of the Literature, Journal of Restorative Medicine, Volume 6, Number 1, 6 December 2017, pp. 37-45(9);
5. Baseline of Health Foundation, Oregon Grape Root
6. Mountain Rose Herbs
7. Medical Uses for Oregon Grape
8. Methowvallyherbs.com
9. Wild Foods and Medicines

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