Herbs & Plants

Mahonia haematocarpa

Botanical Name: Mahonia haematocarpa
Family: Berberidaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Ranunculales
Genus: Berberis
Species: B. haematocarpa

*Mahonia haematocarpa (Woot.) Fedde
*Berberis nevinii var. haematocarpa (Wooton) L. D. Benson

Common Names: Mexican Barberry, Red barberry, Red Mexican barbery, Colorado barberry

Habitat : Mahonia haematocarpa is native to South-western N. America – Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Mexico. It grows on slopes and flats in desert shrubland, desert grassland, and dry oak woodland; 900-2300 m; Arizona., California., Colorado., Nevada., New Mexico, Tex.; Mexico.

Berberis haematocarpa is a shrub growing up to 3–4 m (9.8–13.1 ft) tall, with stiff and erect branches. It has thick, rigid pinnate leaves of several centimeters long. Each is made up of a few thick 3-7 lance-shaped leaflets with very spiny toothed edges. They are a glaucus whitish-gray in color, due to a thick cuticle of wax.
The inflorescences bear 3 to 5 bright yellow flowers, each with nine sepals and six petals all arranged in whorls of three. The plant blooms from February to June.
The fruit is a juicy, edible deep red to purplish-red berry, spherical and up to 8 mm (0.31 in) across.


This species is very closely related to Mahonia fremontii, being distinguished by the fruit which is blue-black in Mahonia fremontii and red in Mahonia haematocarpa
The genus Mahonia is not universally accepted. Many botanists prefer to treat it as part of Berberis – as per the Flora of N. America. However, although they are very closely related (and there are some intergeneric hybrids), from the point of view of the gardener they are quite distinct genera. We are therefore following the treatment in the Flora of China. which treats them as distinct. There is, however, at least one major revision (of the Chinese genera) currently (2016) in preparation and we will review the position of Mahonia once we have seen that revision.

Mahonia haematocarpa is native to semi-arid regions of southwestern N. America. It only hardy in the milder areas of the temperate zone, tolerating short-lived temperatures down to about -10°c when fully dormant. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts.
Unlike most members of this genus, this species requires a dry, perfectly drained position in full sun, a gritty slightly acid soil is best. It grows best on a sunny south facing wall in Britain and does well in a hot, dry position. It requires a position sheltered from strong or cold winds.
The flowers are fragrant.

Edible Uses:
Fruit is eaten – raw or cooked. Juicy and acidic, it is used mainly for making jams and jellies in N. America. It makes an acceptable raw fruit and is especially nice when added to porridges or muesli. Unfortunately, there is relatively little flesh and a lot of seeds.

Medicinal Uses:
Inner wood shavings can be soaked in water to make an eyewash. Berberine, universally present in rhizomes of Mahonia species, has marked antibacterial effects and is used as a bitter tonic. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery. It should not be used with Glycyrrhiza species (Liquorice) because this nullifies the effects of the berberine. Berberine has also shown antitumour activity. The root and root bark are best harvested in the autumn.

Other Uses:
A green dye is obtained from the roots. Yellow according to another report . A green dye is obtained from the leaves. Dark green, violet and dark blue-purple dyes are obtained from the fruit.

Known Hazards:
All parts of the plant contain the alkaloid berberine – this is most concentrated in the roots, stems and inner bark, and least concentrated in the fruits. In small quantities berberine has a range of effective medicinal applications but, in excess, can cause vomiting, lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, lethargy, and other ill-effects.
The fruit of most, if not all, members of this genus are more or less edible and can be eaten in quantity since the levels of berberine in the fruit are very low.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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