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Holly plants often have a reputation for being beautiful and poisonous. Oregon grape holly berries are deceptive—they’re neither grape nor holly. They get their mistaken title from their similar appearance to grapes and holly plants, but are they safe for consumption?
Oregon grape holly berries are not poisonous to humans or most pets. They can be eaten after being washed, jellied, or juiced. However, the leaves and stems are thorny, so precautions should be taken. Furthermore, they have large seeds that must be removed before eating them.
Throughout this post, I’ll explain whether or not you should eat Oregon grape holly berries, how to cook and prepare them, and what you should know before feeding these berries to your pets.
Can You Eat Oregon Grape Holly Berries?
You can eat Oregon grape holly berries after washing them in warm water. Various pesticides and other chemicals can be toxic, so it’s important to clean the berries beforehand. Furthermore, these berries are quite sour and tart, so you might want to take a small bite before diving into a handful of them.
According to the National Park Service, Oregon grape holly berries are completely safe for consumption (source).
They’ve been used to treat internal and external health problems, including stomach aches, exposed wounds, and more. Mashing the berries will make them much easier to apply to scrapes and other wounds.
If you plan to harvest Oregon grape holly berries, keep these suggestions in mind:
- Wear gardening gloves to prevent the thorns and spikey leaves from cutting your hands and arms.
- Cross-reference the plants with local holly plants, including so-called Christmas hollies. Their similarities can lead to disastrous results if you eat the wrong plant.
- Expect plenty of large seeds in each bite. You’ll likely have to spit out the seeds with each berry.
- These berries are quite sour, even when they’re ripe.
- The bark and stems can be peeled and used for dyes and topical applications.
Note: Don’t eat an Oregon grape holly berry unless you’re sure it’s not a holly plant.
Review this helpful YouTube video about identifying Oregon grape plants:
How To Prepare Oregon Grape Holly Berries To Eat
Prepare your Oregon grape holly berries by boiling them and mashing them with sugar. You can turn them into jelly with this method, but you can also eat them raw, blend them in a smoothie, or juice them. These grapes have tough seeds that should be removed to prevent cracked teeth and digestion issues.
Here’s a quick way to jelly your Oregon grape holly berries:
- It is generally recommended to boil the berries, then simmer them for 15 minutes or so. The process greatly reduces the bitterness while loosening the berries enough to break them apart and release their juices. It also helps you turn them into jelly without popping the berries.
- Mash the berries, then dump them and their juices in a food processor, blender, or mill. Food mills work best, but you can even use a juicer if you don’t have any of the other appliances mentioned above. The goal is to separate the juice from the mashed berries. Set both of them aside for the next step.
- Add a little bit of cane sugar to balance the tart, sour flavor while boiling the mixture. Sugar is a crucial ingredient in almost every fruit jelly. As a general rule of thumb, add half the amount of sugar compared to the fruit. For example, if you add four cups of berries, match them with two cups of cane sugar.
You can also add lemon juice, pectin, and many other jellying ingredients. However, a delicious jelly can easily be made with nothing other than mashed berries, juice, and a few cups of sugar. Ensure you have the right canning jars to prevent them from expanding once you put the hot jelly into the jar.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time making Oregon grape holly berry jelly, you can follow these steps to make a quick smoothie:
- Wash the berries under warm water to remove debris and chemicals.
- Place them in a juicer, then pour the juice into a blender.
- Add your favorite fruits and vegetables, including apples, kale, kiwis, and pineapple.
- Blend the mixture with one to two cups of almond milk (or your preferred liquid).
Those who want to eat Oregon grape holly berries raw should chew around the seeds. They’re far too hard to break with your teeth. Even if you do, you’ll experience digestive discomfort after eating a handful of these berries.
Can Pets Consume Oregon Grape Holly Berries?
Most pets, including dogs, can consume Oregon grape holly berries. Many companies use these berries for medicinal purposes since they’re naturally antibacterial and loaded with antioxidants.
They’re also quite anti-inflammatory, preventing long-term health conditions in older dogs. However, keep an eye out for symptoms of discomfort prior to feeding several berries to your pets.
Cascade Bus News states many people feed Oregon grape holly berries to their dogs as medicine (source). They’re found in many online and over-the-counter products because they provide numerous internal and external benefits for pets and people.
Everything from the roots to the berries can be used from these plants.
Keep in mind that older dogs or those with poor dental conditions might have a hard time chewing through the seeds. Furthermore, the seeds will likely pass through their intestines without breaking down, which could cause discomfort if they eat too many of them.
Stick to one or two berries before feeding your dog handfuls of them.
The best way to know if your pet can eat non-toxic Oregon grape holly berries is to contact a local veterinarian.
While Oregon grape holly berries are almost always safe to eat, they can be hard to identify. Never consume real holly berries or wild grapes without knowing their species.
Holly plants are poisonous, but Oregon grape holly berries aren’t actually hollies.