Oregon Grape is native to the Pacific Northwest and can be found on all the coasts. The bushes come in different varieties that can reach up to 2 meters or more in height. Their leaves are very spiny, so they make good barrier hedges. Leaves may turn a decorative bronze color at times. The dark blue/purple berries are quite tasty, at least to me, but to some, they are somewhat sour to the taste. I’ve found they make good jam when harvested in the summer when they are the sweetest. Grapes hanging at the tips of branches and in the sun ripen first.
Oregon Grape leaves are spiny and prickly. The berries are soft and plump when ripe. If desired, use latex surgical gloves for picking. These will protect your fingers, yet allow you to feel the grapes for ripeness. Choose berries that are dark blue to purple in color. Do not cook ones that are still green or have already matured and shriveled.
A fast way to harvest grapes is to hold a branch in one hand while stripping the cluster of berries with the other, position your container to catch the dropping berries.
To separate leaves, stems, and the unwanted, from the Grapes, pour the berries into a shallow cardboard box about 5 cm high. Shake the box from side to side. This will bring the grapes to the top and leave most of the tiny stems at the bottom. Grab up handfuls of berries, shake them off while checking them for ripeness and transfer them to another container. Throw out debris and unsuitable berries. Repeat the process until all are cleaned.
To make tea, simmer a small amount of dried, coarsely chopped root in 1 cup of water for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain out the leftover root. The tea has been used in the treatment of liver and kidney troubles, rheumatism, arthritis, hepatitis, jaundice, syphilis, anemia, constipation, and uterine diseases. Dried root mixed with rubbing alcohol can be used externally to treat skin diseases such as eczema, acne, herpes, and psoriasis.