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Mahonia benefits for house, health & more

A robin bird in a mahonia tree, an example of the many mahonia benefits

Mahonia is a rather quiet, slow-growing shrub that bursts to life in winter with amazing yellow blooms. Not only is it beautiful, but it also shares many benefits! To heal minor ailments or to make life more beautiful and colorful, this is one plant that deserves to grow in your garden!

Key facts about Mahonia benefits

Health – stomach, skin
House – cooking & dye
Garden – ornamental, bird feed
Pets – non-toxic, medicinal

Health benefits of Mahonia


A main active compound of Mahonia plants is berberine. This is an alkaloid found in roots and stems. It’s yellowish in color when properly extracted from the plant. In minute amounts, berberine is present in the seeds, inside the mahonia fruit.

Berberine isn’t for pregnant women, newborns, or young children. It modifies brain development, leading to possible damage even in a fetus or breast-feeding newborns.

Stomach and skin issues

However, in adults, berberine and other compounds help regulate stomach activity. Mahonia reduces bloating and quells upset stomachs.

Also, as an ointment, Mahonia extracts help soothe skin disorders such as psoriasis and possibly eczema.

Amazing antioxidant activity

Increasingly hailed as a new “superfood”, the berries of the Mahonia plant contain extremely high levels of phenols. These, as in blueberries and bilberries, are what give the berry their blue-red color.

Phenols, and anthocyanins in particular, are powerful anti-oxidants.

Mahonia in the kitchen & home

Long have mahonia berries been used in traditional cooking. Now, great chefs are starting to use it in very modern creations, too!

Cooking Mahonia berries

Of course, you’ll be thrilled to discover that those blue berries on your Oregon grape aren’t toxic. Actually, they’re even delicious to eat!

A new food coloring potential

The strong, stainy red color of the Mahonia berries are currently being studied to produce new natural food dye.

It has the advantage of being stable, and produces a red or blue color.

It’s always an advantage in the food industry to have several options when trying to create new recipes. For example, some persons are allergic to several common food colorings today. They might not be allergic to food coloring extracted from Mahonia berries!

Mahonia dye for clothes and trinkets

Mahonia roots and stems contain high amounts of berberine, which also is a strong, stable dye. Other compounds produce dyes when different plant parts are crushed.

  • inside of the bark on stems & roots – green or yellow dye
  • fruit at different stages of ripeness – dark green, violet, blue
  • leaves – green dye

Mahonia in the garden

An outstanding ornamental shrub

Mahonia is famous for its beautiful winter blooming. Indeed, it opens up reams of flowers that are bright yellow in color, even as temperatures are near-freezing!

Great for birds and animals

Apples and pears were a treat during summer, but come fall, many fruits have disappeared. Birds relish the nutrient-rich Mahonia berries, and often come down in droves to pick the shrubs clean!

But birds aren’t the only ones: the tart fruits fall to the ground and are snapped up by hedgehogs, squirrels and a host of rodents, too!

Landscape preservation

Wherever Mahonia is native, it’s an excellent shrub to control erosion and to purify water reserves. The thick and deep-reaching root system anchors it to the ground. High volumes of water are absorbed and toxic elements such as heavy metals are easily trapped inside the plant.

  • Caution – Mahonia quickly turns invasive in non-native environments!

Pets and mahonia

Fodder and food?

For animals such as horses, goats, and sheep, Mahonia isn’t toxic. Though it isn’t a favorite food, especially because of the leathery, spiny leaves, it’s still food when times are hard.

Toxicity of Mahonia for cats and dogs

Neither the berries nor the leaves of the Mahonia plants are toxic for cats and dogs.

Medicine for pets such as dogs, too

For skin ailments and light diarrhea, mahonia will also help treat your canine friends, as well! Especially when the diarrhea has a bacterial origin, since Mahonia berries are potent antiseptics.

Remember to avoid administering Mahonia to pregnant dogs or those who still have a litter.

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Robin in a Mahonia by David Surtees under © CC BY 2.0

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