(Healthline) – Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is a flowering herb that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat numerous conditions, including psoriasis, stomach issues, heartburn, and low mood.
As such, you may wonder whether these benefits are backed by scientific evidence, and whether the plant has any side effects.
This article examines Oregon grape, explaining everything you need to know about its uses and side effects.
What is Oregon grape?
Despite its name, Oregon grape does not produce grapes.
Instead, its root and stalk contain active plant compounds, which may combat bacterial and fungal infections, as well as inflammatory and skin conditions (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
One of these compounds, berberine, has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which may make it effective at treating many diseases (1Trusted Source).
Oregon grape is found in a variety of products intended for oral or topical use, including supplements, extracts, oils, creams, and tinctures. You can look for these products online or in various health stores.
Oregon grape contains berberine, a powerful plant compound that may relieve many health conditions. This herb is available in various supplements, oils, creams, and extracts.
May treat several skin conditions
Some evidence suggests that Oregon grape reduces the severity of symptoms associated with psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.
These common, inflammatory skin conditions can be chronic and occur anywhere on your body. Psoriasis is characterized by reddish, scaly patches of skin, whereas atopic dermatitis is a severe form of eczema that causes itchy, dry skin (1Trusted Source).
In a 6-month study in 32 people with psoriasis who applied an Oregon grape topical cream, 63% reported that the product was equal or superior to the standard pharmaceutical treatment (3Trusted Source).
Likewise, in a 12-week study, 39 people who used an Oregon grape cream experienced significantly improved psoriasis symptoms, which remained stable and didn’t require any follow-up treatment for 1 month (3Trusted Source).
Furthermore, a 3-month study in 42 people with atopic dermatitis observed improvements in symptoms after having them apply a skin cream containing Oregon grape3 times daily (4Trusted Source).
Though these results are promising, more rigorous research is necessary to determine this herb’s ability to treat these conditions.
Small-scale human studies indicate that Oregon grape may treat psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. All the same, more research is needed.
Other potential uses
Oregon grape is a versatile plant with numerous other potential benefits.
May have antibacterial properties
Berberine, an active compound in Oregon grape, demonstrates strong antimicrobial activity (1Trusted Source, 5).
It’s used mainly to treat diarrhea and parasitic infections caused by bacteria (5).
Moreover, a test-tube study revealed that Oregon grape extracts exhibit antimicrobial activity against certain harmful bacteria, fungi, and protozoa (6Trusted Source).
Multiple studies demonstrate similar results, indicating that berberine may combat MRSA and other bacterial infections, such as those caused by E. coli (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
May relieve several stomach issues
The berberine in Oregon grape may ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as other stomach issues like gut inflammation.
In an 8-week study in 196 people with IBS, those who received a berberine treatment experienced reductions in diarrhea frequency, abdominal pain, and overall IBS symptoms, compared with those on a placebo (10Trusted Source).
Animal studies using this compound have suggested improvements not only in IBS symptoms but also in other stomach conditions like gut inflammation (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
Still, human research on the effects of Oregon grape and gut inflammation is lacking.
May help ease heartburn
Due to the anti-inflammatory effects of berberine, Oregon grape may help prevent heartburn and related damage to your esophagus (13Trusted Source).
Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid rises into your esophagus. Heartburn triggers a painful, burning sensation in your throat or chest.
In a study in rats with acid reflux, those treated with berberine had less esophageal damage than those treated with omeprazole, a common pharmaceutical heartburn treatment (13Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that human research is needed.
May help improve your mood
Some evidence indicates that berberine, an active compound in Oregon grape, may alleviate symptoms of depression and chronic stress (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
In a 15-day study in mice, a berberine treatment increased levels of serotonin and dopamine by 19% and 52%, respectively (18Trusted Source).
These hormones are known to help regulate your mood.
Yet, human research is needed before Oregon grape can be recommended as a treatment for depression.
Berberine, a powerful plant compound in Oregon grape, may exert strong antimicrobial activity and help improve symptoms of IBS, heartburn, and low mood. However, further research is necessary.
Possible side effects and concerns
Despite the potential benefits of Oregon grape, there are several concerns associated with its use.
Most studies on this herb have tested it as a topical cream for psoriasis treatment. While it’s widely recognized as safe in this form, insufficient information exists to determine whether Oregon grape is safe to ingest (1Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
Thus, you may want to practice caution or talk to your healthcare provider before taking supplements, tinctures, or other orally administered forms of this herb.
What’s more, children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid all preparations of this product due to a lack of safety information.
Notably, berberine, an active compound in Oregon grape, can cross the placenta and cause contractions (19Trusted Source).
Oregon grape is generally safe to use on your skin, but you should practice caution with oral supplements. Children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it due to insufficient data regarding its safety.