Homemade Oregon Grape Jam (Mahonia Berry)

     reading time: 5 min

Confession – I've never made jam before! I know, I've been a food blogger and a forager for quite some time now, and I love homemade food, but ... unless we're counting that one time I made raw vegan raspberry chia seed "jam", or that other time that I made a sugar-free rhubarb & strawberry jam (which both don't really qualify as jam) ... and sure, I've also made things like redcurrant relish and apple butter and Himalayan balsam jelly last year, but – I've never actually made "proper" jam before!

This changes today.

Because today we are making a wonderful alternative to blackberry jam. Oregon Grape jam! It's the most intense jam flavour that you will ever enjoy, and the best part about it is that Oregon Grapes (aka Mahonia berries) can be foraged for free!

They are rich in vitamin C, and
naturally very high in pectin, so they are ideal to make your own jam or jelly to enjoy yourself and also gift to family and friends 😊

The Oregon Grape is not really a grape. It is a berry that grows in the wild and that honestly looks like it was poisonous. But it's not! Only the seeds are slightly poisonous.
(Unfortunately, Oregon Grapes are full of seeds, lol.)

However, if you
extract their juice (to make jelly, for example) or pass them through a sieve like we're doing to remove the seeds, the delicious juice or puree can be processed further.

The berries themselves taste quite bitter, but once seeded and turned into jam along with apple juice and optional aromatic additions, they become wonderfully delicious – and tinted a pretty purple/burgundy colour. I would describe the taste of this jam as a happy marriage between elderberry, currant, and blackberry. 💜

Mahonia foliage (young)
Mahonia foliage (starting to change colour)

Where and How to Harvest Oregon Grape

Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.), also known as the holly-leaved barberry, is an evergreen shrub native to western North America, in particular Oregon, as well as eastern Asia and Europa. It is a member of the barberry family, and despite its common names, it is neither a grape nor a holly.

Oregon Grape shrubs can grow up to 2 metres tall.
The prickly shrub flowers yellow in early spring, giving off a strongly fragrant, sweet smell and attracting bees, followed by tiny green berries that turn purple as they ripen in late summer. The purple-blue pea-sized berries grow clustered in-between dark green leaves with sharp, thorny edges that resemble common holly leaves. While any part of the holly plant is poisonous, most parts of the Oregon Grape is indeed edible! In autumn the glossy Mahonia leaves can turn red.

Oregon Grapes or Mahonia berries are tart and actually improve after frost. Because of their tartness, the best way to use the berries is to make jam, jelly, pie or wine. Any recipes where sugar is added, basically. T
he berries are very nutritious and particularly rich in vitamin C. As the berries are also popular amongst birds, you have to hurry with the harvest. However, make sure to leave plenty for the birds to enjoy, as this is a vital part of their winter food!

The fruit juice is dark red
and highly staining, so make sure to wear an apron when processing the berries.

Oregon grapes are pretty easy to identify with
their holly-like leaves and their deep blue dusky berries that hang in grape-like clusters and will stain your fingers deep red once crushed. However, they could be confused with juniper berries (Juniperus) or blueberries (Vaccinium)
which both also have a whitish "bloom" coating. In both cases, the plants can be easily told apart by looking at their foliage.

Despite their spiny leaves, and also despite our local Oregon grape variety being called Mahonia aquifolium, it should also not be confused with the common holly, or Ilex aquifolium, which has bright red or bright yellow berries that are regarded as toxic to humans!

General Foraging Guidelines:

  • You should be 100 % certain you are identifying the correct plant. If you do not know what it is, DO NOT eat it! Do not pick if you're in doubt!

  • Don't harvest from contaminated areas such as busy roadsides, near industrial facilities, where dogs pee, along the edges of agricultural fields, old landfill sites etc.

  • Be mindful & harvest sustainably. Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply, and never more than 1/4 of a plant, ideally only about 5 %.

  • Leave the harvesting area litter-free.


Preparation time: 20 mins
Main ingredients: Oregon Grapes, apple juice,
jam sugar
difficulty level: easy
makes: 2 litres of jam
suitable for: vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free,
nut-free, soy-free, oil-free


1 kg fresh Oregon Grapes, washed and stemmed
1500 ml apple juice (or dilute with water if you like it less sweet, e. g. 1350 ml apple juice, and 150 ml water – or even 1250 ml apple juice, and 250 ml water)
800 g jam sugar (I use 3:1 gelling sugar)
1 tsp agar agar
(optional) juice of 1 orange
(optional) half a scraped vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
(optional) 1 cinnamon stick

a large saucepan with lid
a fine mesh sieve
clean, sealable jars *

* I re-used a bunch of old jam jars that I heat sterilized by putting them in the oven on low heat of 110 °C / 230 °F for around ten minutes – if it is too hot, they’ll crack!


To a large saucepan add the washed and stemmed Oregon Grapes and apple juice. Optionally add in the cinnamon stick as well. Bring to a boil, and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Roughly mash the berries with a potato masher (this skip is optional), then pour them though a mesh sieve or colander, along with the apple juice.

Use a large ladle or a spoon to pass the berries through the sieve – you could also juice the berries instead. You'll end up with lots a juice as well as a little pulp.
(This is important to get rid of the slightly poisonous seeds.)

Return strained juice and pulp to the pot. Bring the now beautifully deep red liquid to a boil.

Once it reaches a boil, add gelling sugar, agar agar, as well as optional orange juice, and vanilla. Allow to boil at a rolling boil for about 5 minutes, or until the jam starts to thicken, stirring occasionally. The jam will thicken further upon cooling.

Pour the Oregon Grape jam into prepared sterilized jars, leaving 1/4'' headspace. Tighten the lids and process in boiling water for 10 minutes to seal.

Serve with crusty sourdough bread, soft bread rolls, challah, (vegan) yogurt, or on top of pancakes.

- Instead of using only one type of berry, you can also make this jam with a mix of different berries, such as Oregon Grapes, huckleberries, elderberries, saskatoon berries, blackberries, red or black currants etc. to make a lovely dark purple jam.
- A jar of homemade jam makes for a lovely gift! For giving them away, top jam jars with cloth covers (e. g. following this instruction), or wrap with a pretty ribbon, and put on a tag or a custom sticker label such as these "Homemade with Love" stickers or these minimalistic canning labels. I actually use these ones.


The pictures of holly and juniper are from Pixabay.