Taos Herb

Is that Christmas holly?

By Rob Hawley
For The Taos News
Posted 12/12/18

Yerba de la sangre is often mistaken for holly due to the shape of its leaves.

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Taos Herb

Is that Christmas holly?


Spanish name: Yerba de la Sangre. Common names: Oregon grape root, creeping barberry, holly grape. Scientific name: Mahonia repens.

Yerba de la sangre is often mistaken for holly due to the shape of its leaves.

Also called creeping barberry, it develops purple fruits that are edible but not yummy and turn red in the fall. It grows throughout the western United States in dry open woods in mountainous areas from 1,000 to 10,000 feet in altitude. In our mountains, yerba de la sangre is a low-growing plant with yellow flowers in the spring and early summer and glabrous (smooth and shiny) leaves that have sharp points.

The root is the primary part of the plant that is used as medicine, but it is bitter. Bitterness is an important principle in herbal medicine.

When bitter is detected by the taste buds at the back of the tongue, it stimulates digestive juices and the motion of the intestine (peristalsis), making it useful for improving poor digestion and symptoms of indigestion including gas, reflux, and the associated heartburn, burping and even poor appetite.

The root contains the yellow alkaloid berberine, which is an antibacterial compound that has been used in treating a variety of infections of the intestine including E. coli, shigella, salmonella, klebsiella and strep. The presence of berberine makes yerba de la sangre useful in first-aid powders that can be used to prevent infections in wounds.

Recent research also suggests that berberine may lower cholesterol. This broadly beneficial plant is used by traditional healers to improve the sluggish metabolism of fats in the liver that are associated with symptoms, such as poor fat digestion, dry skin and even acne. Treating these symptoms has given this herb a reputation as a blood cleanser.

Collect yerba de la sangre anytime in the spring, summer or fall. The potency of this plant is best kept by extracting it fresh and storing the tincture in dark glass bottles. Doses range from 30-60 drops in water sipped before meals for digestion and improved fat metabolism to 100 or more drops between meals for bacterial infection of the intestine.

Yerba de la sangre can increase the action of certain prescription drugs by enhancing the function of cytochrome P450 enzymes, so it should not be used without consulting your health care provider if you are on medication.

Rob Hawley co-owns the Taos Herb Company. For information, call (575) 758-1991 or go to taosherb.com


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