Sipping on… Tangy, Spiky Oregon Grape!

My Mahonia syrup, mint leaf, grape juice, lime and sparkling water mocktail. I got the recipe from Lottie Muir’s book ‘Wild Cocktails’.

Mahonia syrup and gin! Start building your cocktail cabinet now…

While flicking through Lottie Muir’s ‘Wild Cocktail’ bible, I was astounded to find that the ill tempered looking evergreen shrub I walk my son past every day to school actually has edible berries! Mahonia, or Oregon grape, is commonly planted in hedgerows and park boundaries by councils as it is drought tolerant, shade tolerant, can handle most soils and most pests can’t eat it. It also presents a fearsome obstacle to a would be burglar with its leathery, pinnate (divided) leaves with thorny teeth. It has attractive yellow clusters of flowers in Spring, which ripen into oval, purplish blue berries that have the same opaque flush you find on blueberries. In Mahonia’s case this is caused by a waxy coating which is quite harmless.

Mahonia with ripe berries outside Tesco car park, canal side!

There are over 70 species worldwide, but the most common Mahonia planted in the UK are Mahonia japonica and Mahonia aquifolium. M.aquifolium has rounder berries. You can use them both the same way.

Interestingly enough, there are divided opinions on the edibility of the berries. states that the berberine they contain is helpful in the oral treatment of IBS and other gut inflammation, and they have been used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for centuries to treat psoriasis, stomach issues, heartburn and depression. However, some sources claim the berberine is harmful. I had a look at some studies by scientists at, in a paper titled ‘Toxicological Effects of Berberine and Sanguinarine’ they state that low doses berberine encourages the growth of cancer cells, whilst in higher doses it acts to slow their growth! Confusing or what! The same scientists also tell us berberine is antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Compounds in Oregon grape are shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. You can buy all sorts of herbal supplements containing berberine, so in my humble opinion sticking a far more dilute version (I.e. fruit) in some booze or syrup and drinking it very occasionally is pretty safe.

Various foraging websites such as,,, and all state that mahonia berries are tasty and edible, used in jams, beverages, and smoothies. Pioneers of the Pacific North-west of America used the berries as an important source of Vitamin C, especially as it is evergreen and around in the winter. It is great for jam as it is naturally high in pectin. And it’s a good idea to add sugar anyway as this stuff is on the tart side…

Mahonia berries ready for use – watch out, they are messy, with a purple dye!

It was also used medicinally by Native Americans for internal bacterial infections – from sinusitis to pneumonia and even TB. It has also been useful in fighting off food poisoning and dysentery, anything where bacteria is being naughty in your guts… To use a decoction of Mahonia medicinally, boil some pieces of the root, inner bark or dried leaves until the water reduces by half, then top up with half the lost amount of water.

I made some Mahonia Gin and some Mahonia Syrup, both from Lottie Muir (of The Midnight Apothecary cocktail bar) in her book Wild Cocktails.


100g/1 cup mahonia berries, stripped from stems

100g white sugar

Gin – enough to fill a large jam jar

  1. Shuck the berries off the stems and weigh.
  2. Prick holes in the berries with a fork.
  3. Bang in a clean (sterilised) jam jar and add the sugar. Mix well.
  4. Pour the gin over til the jar is full.
  5. Seal and give it a good shake.
  6. Store in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Check back in a month and taste.
  7. Strain using a fine sieve into a sterilised decanting bottle.
Mahonia gin…straight after pouring. Will check back in a few days.


2 cups mahonia berries

2 cups white granulated sugar

1 cup water

  1. Put the berries in a non reactive pan (stainless steel or enamel) and heat gently til they start to boil.
  2. Quickly switch down to simmer.
  3. Crush with a potato masher til the liquid is purple red.
  4. Pour into a measuring jug.
  5. For every cup of juice, add 1 cup of sugar.
  6. Return to pan and bring to the boil.
  7. Simmer for a further 5 minutes.

This can be mixed with more mild juices such as grape or apple to make a lovely mocktail with lime, grape juice and mint leaves. Yum. Will do some experiments and come back with the results later…and possibly a bangin’ head from the gin.

My take on the ‘Only the Mahonia’ mocktail recipe by The Midnight Apothecary

juice of 1 lime

5 mint leaves

65ml white grape juice

40ml mahonia syrup

Sparkling water to top up (as I live on a boat with no freezer for ice!)

  1. Mix the mahonia syrup and the lime juice in a cocktail mixer.
  2. Rub the mint leaves and add ice if you have it!
  3. Add the grape juice.
  4. Top up with sparkling water
  5. Garnish with a sprig of mahonia berries, slice of lime and a mahonia leaf sprig. Enjoy!

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