If you are curious about Oregon Grape, now is the time to work on identifying it. The berries and the root are what people search for. Personally, I like to purchase roots from a reliable source since they are a pain to collect and clean. However, Oregon Grapes have tons of berries for the picking.
The plant looks a lot like a holly bush except that in the spring they have huge clusters of little yellow flowers. I was amazed at how many bushes are in my community. Once I learned to identify them, they were everywhere.
I like the berries. My family, not so much. They are fairly green tasting (as in grass not unripe). They aren’t exactly sweet either. And the leaves are rather prickly. But they are refreshing. Make great syrup and jam/jelly.
The best part is they are prolific which makes them free since no one else is eating them. In Washington/Idaho, they are hugely popular as landscaping bushes but they also grow wild in the area forests. Holly does not so if it looks like a holly bush it’s most likely Oregon grape.
The reason this is called Oregon grape is that the dark purple berries cluster just like grapes. If you can get a cluster off, they would look just like a bunch of grapes. They are smaller berries.
To me, their blooms signify the start of the food season. Foraging in our area through the winter in nearly impossible. The only thing we have identified for winter foraging is Rowan. The berries must be frozen before they are edible. Unfortunately, this past winter all the berries were no good because we had an unseasonably warm late fall (October/November) which meant that the berries had been on the trees for many, many weeks before our first freeze. And we still had other foraging because of the warmth.
Nutritionally, Oregon grapes are high in vitamin C and pectin. While I didn’t have success using these berries to thicken other jellies (still need to learn more about making old fashioned jellies), the rumor is that you can use it in place of pectin in your jams/jellies. That is what got us playing with the “grapes” to begin with.
We skipped them last year but this spring, I’m craving them. I can’t wait to get buckets full. I’m thinking that I may dry them for use in cookies and trail mixes. How tasty does that sound?
This year I am hoping to fill up our pantry with so many foraged goods and watching those flowers bloom gives me hope. Another month before the “real” foraging begins and I am so excited.
What plants get you excited for foraging?