Wildflowers, Plants and Ferns, Pacific Northwest
The Tall Oregon Grape Plant has good autumn leaf color, abundant clusters of yellow flowers, and dark black, edible fruits have made this handsome, spiny leaved evergreen shrub a widely promoted ornamental, especially in the American West.
Less well known are its medicinal properties, which have long been used by the first peoples and others.
The glossy leaves are pinnately divided into five to thirteen leaflets, each of which resembles a holly leaf. Red when newly open, the leaves become dark green in summer, then purplish or bronze in fall and winter, particularly when planted in sun and where winters are cold.
The dense clusters of tiny flowers, which appear in March through May, are 5 to 8 cm long and slightly fragrant. Grape like berries 1 cm in diameter ripen in July through September and are the source of the plant’s common name, Holly Grape.
First Peoples knew tall Oregon grape plant well. They ate the fresh berries and on south Vancouver Island, used them as an antidote to shellfish poisoning. Thompson Peoples boiled the outer bark of the roots to make a bright yellow dye for baskets. Liquid from boiled woody stems helped treat red itchy eyes.
The Tall Oregon Grape Plant is a wonderful coastal landscape shrub. It’s attractive all year round and produces edible berries which make an excellent wild jelly. Use lots of sugar for the taste is very tart, and get rid of all the seeds for they are large and somewhat bitter.