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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.

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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 (1, 2).

One of these compounds, berberine, has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which may make it effective at treating many diseases (1).

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.

summary

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.

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 (1).

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 (3).

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 (3).

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 (4).

Though these results are promising, more rigorous research is necessary to determine this herb’s ability to treat these conditions.

summary

Small-scale human studies indicate that Oregon grape may treat psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. All the same, more research is needed.

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 (1, 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 (6).

Multiple studies demonstrate similar results, indicating that berberine may combat MRSA and other bacterial infections, such as those caused by E. coli (7, 8, 9).

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 (10).

Animal studies using this compound have suggested improvements not only in IBS symptoms but also in other stomach conditions like gut inflammation (11, 12).

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 (13).

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 (13).

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 (14, 15, 16, 17).

In a 15-day study in mice, a berberine treatment increased levels of serotonin and dopamine by 19% and 52%, respectively (18).

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.

Summary

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.

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 (1, 3).

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 (19).

Summary

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.

Oregon grape is a flowering plant that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine.

Scientific research suggests it relieves symptoms of psoriasis and other skin conditions, but it may also boost your mood, offer antibacterial activity, and ease IBS and heartburn.

Though generally safe, Oregon grape should not be taken by children or pregnant or breastfeeding women.

If you’re interested in trying this herb, it may be best to start by using a topical treatment containing it, such as a skin ointment, and consult a medical professional before taking supplements or other oral formulations.