The Oregon grape flower, as its name implies, is the state flower of Oregon, where it grows in abundance. However, these small blossoms are native throughout North America, and can be seen bursting forth from rich, moist soil in many wooded areas. The Oregon grape is a low-growing evergreen shrub which is made up of waxy, ovate, alternating leaves; tart, deep purple berries, and fragrant flowers. The blossoms themselves are small, but form in large clusters around a long raceme. The heads consist of six yellow-green tepals, three outer bracts, and six stamens.
Aside from having a unique and colorful appearance, the Oregon grape flower also has a history for being very useful. For example, many native people from the Pacific Northwest would use an entire plant to make dyes – yellow from the roots, flowers and inner bark of the stem; purple from the berries, and green from the leaves. Although these plants are not technically grapes – despite their misleading name – their fruit is actually quite edible. These berries can be eaten straight from the bush; however, their rather tart flavor frequently leads people to creating jellies and jams, wines and fruit salads, so as to cut out some of their natural bite. The actual flower heads are also edible, and can be eaten fresh, fried or boiled into a refreshing floral drink. In addition to being an unusual culinary staple, the Oregon grape flower also has a strong medicinal history. Some of the first settlers in Oregon, British Columbia and Washington used this plant to treat everything from soar throats and bronchitis, to poor digestion, loss of appetite and a general feeling of malaise. Today, the uses for Oregon grape flowers have expanded. Teas, balms and oils are commonly used to treat a number of maladies; skin conditions, blurry and bloodshot eyes, stomach complaints, venereal diseases, and respiratory ailments. One of its more interesting uses is as an essence. A drop or two of the Oregon grape flower essence is thought to produce a feeling of trust, openness and calm.
In addition to representing civic pride in Oregon, Oregon grape flowers are also thought to be a symbol of acceptance and forgiveness. As a gift, these blossoms are unique, and are sometimes presented as a single raceme, or within a bunch or bouquet. Sometimes they are given in response to an apology; however, they are most commonly presented to the recipient as a way of telling him or her that they are loved for who they are.