The Oregon grape is the state flower of Oregon State in the US to which it is native. It is also native to northern California, northern Idaho, British Columbia and Washington State. It is a member of the Berberidaceae family, which makes it a relative of the Common barberry, Rasout, and Kashmal or the berberry. It was introduced into Britain as an ornamental in 1823 and has since managed to have naturalized in some parts as a garden escapee.
  This plant can grow to around 3 metres or approximately 9 feet high, and is fast-growing with shiny evergreen leaves which resemble a holly leaf, although the upper sides of these may turn a purple colour in winter. Because of its leaves it is also known as the holly-leaves barberry. It is known by several botanical names too, namely: - Berberis aquifolium, Berberis piperiana, Mahonia piperiana but the generally accepted name is Mahonia aquifolium.  Its flowers are bright yellow and smell a little like honey, and these give way to the fruit which ripens from green to blue-black growing in clusters like small grapes, making them easy to collect. These fruit can have between zero and nine seeds in them.
  The fruit contains quite a lot of vitamin C, making it good for colds and flu, but it tastes rather sour, hence the name sourberry. It is made into juices and jellies and the cooked fruit tastes like blackcurrants. The flowers are edible and can be dipped in tempura batter and fried, used to garnish salads and make a drink which is similar to lemonade. The fruit has a mild laxative action.
  Native Americans used the root for stomach upsets and to stimulate the appetite, as well as for a tonic for general debility. Today it is often used for stomach problems, to aid digestion to help with catarrh and to stimulate the functions of the gallbladder and kidneys. In folk medicine an infusion of the root was used as a remedy for syphilis, while an ointment made from it was used for psoriasis and other skin problems. A gargle made from the root was used to relive a sore throat and an infusion was useful as a wash for bloodshot eyes.
  Various coloured dyes are obtained from the plant ranging from yellow and green through to violet and purple. The plants are sometimes used as a low, living hedge, and sometimes the leafy branches are used for Christmas decorations.
  Berberine an alkaloid found in the rhizome of Oregon grape, (also present in Barberries and Goldenseal and so on) is antibacterial and antimicrobial so useful in cases of dysentery, and can help in trachoma (visual impairment which can cause blindness, particularly in the still-developing world) and different forms of conjunctivitis, and has been found to regulate blood sugar levels, making it helpful for people with Type-2 diabetes. It may also help spatial memory impairment and Alzheimer’s patients according to one study by Feiqi Zhu and Caiyan Qan 2006, published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
  In trials on patients an ointment made from the root extracts of the Oregon grape have proved effective in the long term in the treatment of psoriasis, thus providing scientific evidence for traditional use. Gulliver W.P. and Donsky H.J. concluded their study with these words “several investigators in several countries indicate that Mahonia aquifolium is a safe and effective treatment of patients with mild to moderate psoriasis.” (American Journal of Therapeutics, Vol. 12 (5) September to October: pp.398-406)
  Berberine has also been found to boost the immune system, have anti-dandruff and anti-histamine and anti-bacterial effects as well as being anti-fungal anti-ulcer and immuno-modulatory, stimulating the liver and cleansing the blood thus lowering cholesterol levels.
  Another alkaloid found in the rhizome, berbamine, has been found to have potent anti-tumour effects in vitro and in vivo “Berbamine exhibits potent anti-tumour effects on imatinib-resistant CML cells in vitro and in vivo” Yan-Lin Wei et al. Acta Pharmacologia Sina, 2009,Vol. 30pp. 451-457. Berbamine has also been seen to inhibit the growth of leukaemia cells according to the study “The antiproliferation effects of berbamine on K562 resistant cells by inhibiting NF-kappaB pathway” Wei Y. L. et al. Anatomical Record (Hoboken, N.J.:2009)
  Yet again plants have the potential to benefit our health in a very positive way.

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