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Saturday - December 06, 2008

From: Los Alamos, NM
Region: Southwest
Topic: Edible Plants
Title: Native American barberry with edible fruit in New Mexico
Answered by: Barbara Medford


HI I am looking for a native american burberry plant with edible fruit. I love Persian cuisine, and they use the dried fruit of the burberry plant in a rice dish that I would like to recreate. I live in high desert in northern new mexico at 7400' elevation. I see there are lots of native varieties but there is not a lot of information on what is edible by humans, rather than birds, mammals, etc. Thanks!


The only burberry we could find is a 152-year-old British retailer of high-end coats and accessories. We were pretty sure that's not what you were looking for, so we tried barberry, and found four native to New Mexico in our Native Plant Database. All are members of the Mahonia genus, and the berries of all four are considered edible, though apparently some are tastier than others. The question is going to be if they are hardy in your area. We found varying experts' opinions on the hardiness of Mahonia, ranging from hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4, to Zone 5, to Zones 6 to 9. It's kind of difficult to figure out exactly what zone Los Alamos is in, because of the mountains, and resulting curves and dips in the lines between the zones, but we're guessing, especially at your altitude, you probably are in Zone 5a to 5b. The mahonias ordinarily grow well in part shade, but might not need the shade to protect them from heat in your area. We suggest that you contact the New Mexico State University Extension Office Los Alamos County and the Native Plant Society of New Mexico, both of which would be in a better position to advise you on the hardiness of these New Mexico natives than we are. 

Here is the information we were able to find on the four native to New Mexico, with some comments on the fruit. Follow the plant links to our webpage on each plant, and the link at the bottom of the page to Google information on that plant, for more specific instructions on how and where they will grow.

Mahonia fremontii (Fremont's mahonia) - Yellow edible fruit, a desert plant that really prefers year-round warmth. Pictures

Mahonia haematocarpa (red barberry) - Fruit edible but sour.

Mahonia repens (creeping barberry) -There is believed to be some toxicity to these berries when they are green, though this may be partly because they are not palatable until they are fully ripe and have been through a freeze or two, by which time they are perfectly safe.

Mahonia trifoliolata (agarita) - Hardy to 15 deg. F.

You should be warned that wildlife is also very fond of these berries, especially birds, so if you plan to raise some for berries for your cuisine, prepare to defend the bush.

Mahonia haematocarpa

Mahonia repens

Mahonia trifoliolata





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