Berberis aquifolium (root)

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Berberis aquifolium (Pursh) Nutt.   Berberidaceae  
Syn. Berberis aquifolium Pursh  
Standardized common name (English): Oregon grape

Botanical Voucher Specimen

Organoleptic Characteristics

"[Rhizome's] odor distinct; taste strongly bitter. ... Slightly odorous; taste distinctive, very bitter; on chewing it tinges the saliva yellow."

Source: United States Dispensatory (1918) [1]

Macroscopic Characteristics

Oregon hollygrape is a low-growing shrub from 2 to 5 feet in height, resembling the holly of the Eastern States. The leaves are divided like those of an ash; the five to nine leaflets from 2 to 3 inches long and about 1 inch wide are evergreen, thick, leathery, smooth, and shining on the upper surface with marginal spines. The numerous small yellow flowers appear in April and May and are borne in erect clusters. The fruit consists of a cluster of blue berries. The rootstock and roots are more or less knotty, about an inch or less in diameter, with tough yellow wood and brownish bark.

Source: American Medicinal Plants of Commercial Importance (1930) [2]

"The Oregon grape is a tall shrub, about six to seven feet high, with evergreen, coriaceous, bright and shining leaves, and having numerous small, yellowish-green flowers in the early Spring, and later clusters of purple berries containing an acid pulp.

The root, which was formerly official, occurs in pieces about a foot long, one-fourth of an inch thick, of a brownish exterior, but yellowish within, yielding a bright lemon-colored bitter powder. The rhizome was officially described as l( in mere or less knotty irregular pieces of varying length and from 3 to 20 mm. in diameter; bark from 1/2 to 2 mm. thick; wood yellowish, distinctly radiate with narrow medullary rays, hard and tough; rhizome with a small pith [...] Pieces without the bark should be rejected." U. S. VIII.

The N. F. IV recognizes, under the title Berberis, "the rhizome and roots of species of the section Odostemon Rafinesque, of the genus Berberis." This section corresponds to the genus Mahonia of Nuttall, and includes B. Aquifolium and B. Nervosa.

"Cylindrical, more or less knotty, strongly branched, usually cut into pieces of varying length and up to 45 mm. in diameter; externally light yellowish-brown, longitudinally wrinkled and short scaly; fracture hard and tough; bark 1 mm. in thickness, easily separable into layers; wood yellow, the color more pronounced upon wetting, distinctly radiate, and showing rings of growth; pith of rhizome small, sometimes ex-central. [...] The powder is yellowish-brown; composed chiefly of fragments of wood fibers associated with a few tracheae and medullary rays; wood fibers yellowish, scarcely giving any reaction with phloroglucinol T.S. and hydrochloric acid, and with large, simple, transverse pores; trachea chiefly with bordered pores, occasionally reticulate; medullary rays one to twelve cells wide, and in very long rows; starch grains simple or two- to three-compound, the individual grains being irregularly spherical, from 0.003 to 0.01 mm. in diameter, and occasionally larger. " N.F.

Source: United States Dispensatory (1918) [3]

Microscopic Characteristics

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Oregon Grape root.jpg
Sclerenchyma fibers observed at 400x with Acidified Chloral Hydrate Glycerol Solution.
Source: Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories[4]

Oregon Grape root-1.jpg
Medullary ray with yellow walls observed at 400x with Acidified Chloral Hydrate Glycerol Solution.
Source: Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories[5]

High Performance Thin Layer Chromatographic Identification

Supplementary Information


  1. United States Dispensatory (1918)
  2. American Medicinal Plants of Commercial Importance (1930)
  3. United States Dispensatory (1918)
  4. Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories
  5. Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories
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