Best Oregon Grape Cream for Skin (Mahonia aquifolium)

Oregon grape (also called Mahonia aquifolium or Berberis aquifolium) is widely considered one of the best natural remedies for psoriasis, eczema and skin inflammation conditions.  It’s also one of the few natural remedies which actually has scientific evidence to support its benefits. (1) As a result, you can find lots of Oregon grape creams for skin.

Many of these Mahonia aquifolium creams are made with parts of the plant which do not contain active substances, or they are extracted in a way which destroys them.  Because of this, it is very important that you know what to look for before buying an Oregon grape skin cream.

Below are the best Oregon grape root skin creams and ointments, as well as info as what makes them the best choices.

Quick Picks:


Choosing an Oregon Grape Cream

There are 5 things you will need to look at:

  1. Part of the plant was used
  2. Drying Method
  3. Extraction method
  4. Percentage of Oregon grape root extract
  5. Cream vs. ointment


1. Part of the Plant Used

oregon grape plant

All parts of the Oregon grape plant contain health-promoting compounds.  However, when it comes to skin health, the roots are by far the most potent part of the plant.

Berberine is the name of the alkaloid in Mahonia aquifolium which is primarily responsible for reducing psoriasis and skin irritation. This is mostly concentrated in the roots of the plant.  There is also some berberine in the stems of Oregon grape, but not nearly as much.

The roots of Mahonia aquifolium also contain other anti-inflammatory alkaloids, including: jatorrhizamine, palmatine, berberine, and magnoflorine.  Because of this, it is important that you only choose an Oregon grape cream made from the roots of the plant. (2, 3, 4)


2. Drying Method

The berberine in Oregon grape root is very sensitive to heat.  Even a small amount of heat can destroy the alkaloid.  Because of this, the roots should be dried in the shade instead of the sun or an oven. One study found that shade-dried samples with cold extraction contained 4.6% berberine compared to just 1.29% for hot-extraction methods.

Unfortunately, not many companies list whether their Oregon grape root was shade-dried or dried in heat.  One exception though is Herb Pharm Oregon Grape Root Extract.  Their Oregon grape root is shade-dried.


3. Extraction Method

There are several methods of extracting the alkaloids from Oregon grape, including: methanol alcohol, ethanol, glycerin, water and oil. Of these, methanol alcohol produces the best results.  Glycerin extracts are also a good choice.

According to one report, methanol extraction produced more than 20mg/mL of berberine.  By contrast, ethanol alcohol only produced 2mg/mL.  Likewise, lower amounts of berberine are extracted in glycerin.   However, because some people’s skin is sensitive to alcohol, glycerin extraction might be preferred.  There is also some evidence that the body might absorb berberine from glycerin extraction better. (5, 6)

While it is possible to extract berberine in water (such as by soaking Oregon grape root to make a tea), the results aren’t great.  Very little berberine gets into cold water.  More berberine is extracted in boiling water, but then you risk destroying the berberine with the heat.  Thus, it isn’t recommended to make tea from dry Oregon grape root.

It also isn’t recommended to buy oil extracts of Oregon grape root.  The alkaloids don’t dissolve into the oil well.  On top of that, oils tend to go rancid quickly. (7, 8, 9, 10)


4. Percentage of Oregon Grape Root Extract

In many of the studies where Oregon grape root successfully treated psoriasis, a cream containing 10% extract was used.   When buying Oregon grape creams though, it is highly unlikely that any will contain this much of the plant extract.  Few brands even list how much extract is in their creams – you are left to guess based on the order of the ingredients.

The only way to be sure that you are getting a high percentage of Oregon grape root extract is to make your own creams.  You can do this by buying Mahonia aquifolium extract and adding it to your favorite base (such as honey, cupuacu or tamanu oil).

It’s also possible to apply Mahonia aquifolium extracts directly to your skin. It’s difficult to spread pure extracts around on your skin though so, unless you are only treating a tiny areas of skin, it’s more cost-effective to mix into a base.fbor


5. Cream vs. Ointment

Studies found that Oregon grape creams and ointments had the same effectiveness.  So, it ultimately comes down to a personal choice.  In general, ointments are recommended over creams for psoriasis.  Because ointments contain more oil, they trap moisture better and stay in place better.  However, creams are easier to put on and make less of a mess, so are more convenient to use. (11, 12)


Best Oregon Grape Root Creams and Ointments for Skin

Below are the best creams and ointments made from Oregon grape extract.  The products are listed in order from the top pick.


1. MJ’s Herbals Organic First Aid Salve

This is a fantastic salve for treating a variety of skin conditions.  I particularly like that it also contains white oak bark, which is another extract known for helping with psoriasis.  The salve is a bit oily, so you will need to let it sit on your skin to absorb before getting dressed.  However, it’s a major plus that the salve doesn’t contain alcohol, which can irritate inflamed skin.

Main ingredients:

  • Comfrey root
  • Oregon grape root
  • Calendula blossoms
  • White oak bark
  • Marshmallow root
  • Vitamin E oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Olive oil
  • Propolis beeswax

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2. Herb Pharm Oregon Grape Root Extract

The brand Herb Pharm makes some of the best plant extracts.  Their Oregon grape root extract is not different.  It is made from Mahonia aquifolium sustainably-harvested in the Pacific Northwest of the USA.  The roots are then shade-dried to preserve the alkaloids before being extracted in alcohol.  With a menstruum ratio of 1:5, the extract is very potent.  You can mix it with bases to make your own skin cream.  You can also use this extract internally.


  • Wild-harvested, shade-dried Oregon grape root (200mg herb per 1ml)
  • Cane alcohol
  • Distilled water

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3. Secrets of the Tribe Oregon Grape Extract

Here’s another great brand of Oregon grape extract.  It is more affordable per ounce than the Herb Pharm extract above.  Another difference is that the Mahonia aquifolium is extracted in glycerin instead of alcohol.  While glycerin isn’t as good of an extraction solvent as alcohol, the brand compensates for this with a higher menstruum ratio of 1:3. Many people also prefer glycerin on their skin over alcohol.


  • Organic Oregon grape root extract (333mg herb per 1ml)
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Distilled water

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4. MGA Skin Rescue Cream

skin rescue cream with oregon grape root

This cream contains an impressive list of natural plant oils which are known for moisturizing, healing and reducing inflammation in skin.  It isn’t clear whether the Oregon grape extract is from the root of the plant or not though.  The cream goes on nice and light and absorbs quickly.  You’ll need to reapply twice a day for severe dry skin or psoriasis.

Main ingredients:

  • Oregon grape
  • Burdock root
  • Borage
  • Chickweed
  • Calendula
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Shea butter
  • Jojoba oil
  • Aloe vera
  • MSM
  • B5

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5. MG217 Medicated Psoriasis Cream

This is a really popular cream for psoriasis and is recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation.  It contains several ingredients which reduce itchiness and skin scales.  It is also good for general moisturizing and can be used on the face.  Unlike ointments, the cream absorbs very quickly and doesn’t leave stains on your clothes.

While not the most powerful psoriasis cream, it has the benefit of being quite cheap per ounce.  If you need an affordable skin cream for maintenance, this is a good option.

Main Ingredients:

  • Salicylic acid
  • B5
  • Bisabolol
  • Avocado oil
  • Shea butter
  • Oregon grape root
  • Aloe vera
  • Licorice extract

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Don’t expect miracles.

While Oregon grape root extract can do wonders to sooth your skin and treat psoriasis, don’t expect miracles.  It takes time for the skin to heal.  When you stop applying the Oregon grape cream, the psoriasis might just come right back.

Skin health starts from within.  To treat psoriasis and other auto-immune diseases, you’ll also need to take natural supplements which reduce inflammation.  Some good options are turmeric, fish mint, guayusa, anamu and atractylodes.

Image credits:
Berberis aquifolium o mahonia aquifolium” (CC BY 2.0) by M. Martin Vicente,
Suntanned Oregon Grape” (CC BY 2.0) by pellaea

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