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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Thought You Might Like to See Another of Our Native Edibles Here in the PNW

Oregon Grape Low Bush

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

If you haven't spent much time in the Pacific Northwest of the US, you may not have come across this plant before or known that its berries are edible. Locally, it's simply known as Oregon Grape. As it is not a true grape, it's also sometimes known as holly-leaved grape or berberry. I would guess it gets it's name "grape" due to the long hanging clusters of dark blue berries it presents each summer. The edges of the leaves are serrated and prickly, much like holly leaves.

Historically, Oregon Grape berries were a part of the traditional diet for indigenous people of the PNW. Having tasted them myself, it's hard to imagine eating such tart berries as they are. However, I've used them in making very delicious jelly. They're high in pectin, which means I can make a jelly with just the berries and sugar.

Today, Oregon Grape berries are a common fruit for foraging in the PNW. But in my neighborhood, most of the landscapes have the bushes in abundance. The plants grow well in semi-shaded areas that receive abundant rainfall and require virtually no attention. I'm familiar with both the tall and low bush varieties. The tall bushes grow to over 7 feet high, while the low bushes stand about 2 to 2.5 feet in height. We have both growing on our property. These plants have been here since we bought the house 26 years ago, and in some cases, they've seeded new plants. We've never done anything to care for them, that's how easy they are to keep. 

In spring, the bushes are covered with yellow blossoms. And every year in early August, the berries size up, ripen to a dark blue with a whitish bloom, and are ready for me to make a small batch of jelly. The jelly is rich with spicy overtones, like an improved grape jelly. My own kids knew this as "grape jelly" for their PBJs when they were little.

I'm watching the berries this week and next. The birds love them as much as we do, so I have to be quick to grab what I can when they're ripe.


  1. Always so interesting to see the lesser-known berries! Even better that they are so plentiful and usable for you! I've also learned about several from the youtube channel, Parkrose Permaculture (in Portland, Oregon), some of which I think I can even grow here as I continue to work on our permaculture landscape.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I'll check out that youtube channel. It sounds very interesting -- thanks!

    2. Lili,

      I hope you enjoy it! I have found it very interesting and relatable, as she has 4 kids at home and is growing on just 1/4 acre urban lot, but harvesting thousands of pounds per year. My lot is smaller, about 1/6 acre, but I have similar goals, minus the front yard food forest (my husband is not a fan of that idea so I am limited to a few fruit trees and what I can plant around them out there).

  2. Those are a new berry to me. It's always nice to find a berry that doesn't come with thorny stems.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      as we pick buckets and buckets of blackberries each summer, I can totally relate to your thoughts about no thorny stems! The leaf edges of Oregon Grape can be a bit prickly, however.


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