Category: All

Oregon Grape

DSCN0166I’ve lived at my current house for four years, and it wasn’t until last week that I finally learned what the “holly” in the backyard really was. This “holly” has been growing unfettered for at least four years and had grown horizontally along a 10-foot section of fence. I have cut down about 75% of it, mostly the horizontal parts, but it still stands about four feet wide and 10 feet tall.

An internet search for “holly with yellow flowers” quickly turned up this site, which incidentally looks like a great site to identify native plants by appearance. My holly bush, pictured below, is actually a tall Oregon grape, a native plant that goes by the scientific name Mahonia aquifolium.

Having taken a keen interest in propagating salal lately, I found the presence of a fully grown berry-producing bush in my own yard rather exciting. The Oregon grape produces purple fruits like red wine grapes or Concord grapes. Other foragers of Oregon grapes have told me they have very large seeds, so they aren’t great for snacking; they apparently also lack sweetness. Consequently, they’re probably best used in baking, cooking, making jam, or making wine. The Oregon grape also has medicinal uses.

Oregon grape plants will start forming berries in April, May, or June, depending on the weather. The above photo shows berry development in late May 2011. In March and April, look for yellow flowers on holly-like bushes to identify plants to investigate in late summer for harvesting. Check out the WNPS site on Oregon grape for more pictures.

Harvest location note

Though I don’t know how much they’ll produce, being rather young and small bushes, several Oregon grapes were planted along the Burke-Gilman Trail between Gasworks and I-5 in spring 2011.

(Hard-copy references: I also referred to Doug Benoliel’s Northwest Foraging (2011) while writing this entry.)



Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, but it does great west of the Cascades (I can’t speak for elsewhere). Rosemary doesn’t like the cold; here in Seattle, I know of a few rosemary bushes that died out or suffered quite a bit as a result of our December 2008 Snowpocalypse. Our rosemary went from a uniform boxy shape to a weird upright cluster and a left-leaning cluster on long woody trunks.

You may see several varieties of rosemary near you, such as the bushy Tuscan blue, with blue/purple flowers, or Severn Sea, which stays low to the ground, with curving branches and dark violet flowers. (1) Though the flowers come out in springtime only, rosemary is a year-round plant, among the hardiest of the herbs, so you can always go out to pick some.

Look for rosemary in your neighbors’ front yards, especially used as hedges or as part of a landscaped edge. The smell is usually unmistakable, but if you have trouble determining if what you have is rosemary, pick a leaf, break it in half, rub the ends on your hand, and smell.

Growing Your Own

If you want to keep your own rosemary plant, you can grow one in your yard or in a large container, and as the title of this blog indicates, you don’t need to buy any; just use a bit of a neighboring bush. Propagate (grow a new start of) rosemary by cutting a 3-6 inch twig, removing the rosemary leaves from the lower half, and placing it into very moist soil. Keep it very well watered for about two weeks so it gets established. Use a length of spring growth, cut between March and June, for best results. (2)


The best place to find rosemary is in your own neighborhood. A walk around the block, to the store, or just about anywhere, tends to lead you past a rosemary bush. Since rosemary has a strong flavor, you normally don’t need more than a 3-6 inch cutting for any cooking or baking use. Don’t go wandering into people’s yards unless you really don’t mind the potential for negative encounters or consequences, but hardly anyone will care if you pull a bit of rosemary off their sidewalk-adjacent bush.

Two locations I know of in Northwest Seattle with a lot of rosemary are near the northeast corner of NW 80th St and 3rd Ave NW (Greenwood Elementary School), and bordering the north side of the Ballard Commons at NW 58th St and 22nd Ave NW.

updated April 12, 2011 and May 22, 2014

Welcome to Never Buy Rosemary

Never Buy Rosemary is a guide to free and public urban foraging sites in Seattle, because free food is the best food and so much goes to waste. (Check out a comprehensive map of Seattle urban forestry and foraging at Falling Fruit, which includes public and private plants and trees and the listings from the old Never Buy Rosemary map.)

Why the title? I’ve lived here almost all my life, and found that there is no excuse for buying this commonly available herb. If you live in a residential area, just take a walk around your block and look for a rosemary bush. Your neighbor will not miss a sprig. If this bothers you, ask, and they probably won’t care either.

Plus, many public parks and landscaping strips are festooned with more rosemary than anyone knows what to do with, and no one will miss one or two sprigs on your account. Hell, no one will miss dozens of people picking sprigs every once in a while. A little rosemary goes a long way.

Other common foraging foods in Seattle include blackberries, tree fruits, dandelion greens, and fennel.

updated May 22, 2014