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Oregon Grape

Oregon Grape

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Our modern palate oscillates between the addictive flavors of salty and sweet, but we have lost an essential ingredient to optimal health: bitter plants.  They are so rare in our diet that many people cannot name anything with bitterness except coffee.  Historically, humans valued bitters for their digestive stimulating and medicinal properties.  Oregon grape is a quintessential bitter plant that has the capacity to cleanse, clarify and enliven body and spirit.

Lame name:  Mahonia spp.   Oregon grape is in the barberry or Berberidaceae family

Identifying Oregon Grape:  We have two species of Oregon grape in our region – tall Oregon grape (M. aquifolia) grows to 8 feet tall and dwarf or dull Oregon grape (M. nervosa) grows just a few feet tall.  Both are erect stiff branched shrubs with compound leaves that resemble holly in leathery appearance and prickliness.  The leaves are a glossy deep green on top and silvery beneath.  Tall Oregon grape has 5-7 leaflets per leaf while dull Oregon grape (it’s anything but dull) has 9-19 leaflets.  Both plants have rhizomous roots with a brilliant yellow pigment in the inner bark.  Bright yellow flowers have 6 petals and are arranged in clusters.  Appropriately – Oregon grape is Oregon’s state flower.

Oregon Grape

Where it Grows: Oregon grapes are northwest perennials that are prized for their beauty and heartiness. They are commonly planted in city landscapes, parks and along roadsides. Dwarf Oregon grape prefers shady areas – often second story Douglas fir forest. It forms a ground cover. Tall Oregon grape prefers sunnier locations in low to middle elevations. It grows in clusters in dry fields and forest margins.

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