Thorny deciduous shrub growing to 10 ft (3 m), with leathery leaves, yellow flowers, and red berries in autumn.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to Europe, barberry is naturalized in North America. It is cultivated as a garden plant and medicinal herb. The bark is gathered in spring or autumn, and the berries in autumn.
Stem bark, root bark, berries.
Barberry contains isoquinoline alkaloids, including berberine and berbamine. Berberine is strongly antibacterial and amoebicidal, and stimulates bile secretion. Berbamine is strongly antibacterial. Many of the alkaloids are thought to be cancer-inhibiting.
History & Folklore
In ancient Egypt, Berberis berries were macerated with fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare) to make a drink for fevers. The berries are extremely sour but have been used in the past to make preserves—the French confiture d’épine vinette is one example.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Barberry acts on the gallbladder to improve bile flow and ameliorate conditions such as gallbladder pain, gallstones, and jaundice. Its strongly antiseptic property helps amoebic dysentery, cholera, and other similar gastrointestinal infections. The bark is astringent, anti-diarrheal, and healing to the intestinal wall—in short, barberry has a strong, highly beneficial effect on the digestive system as a whole.
Like Oregon grape (B. aquifolium, preceding entry) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), barberry helps chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. The decoction makes a gentle and effective wash for the eyes, although it must be diluted sufficiently before use.
Berberine has been shown to have antibiotic activity against cholera, giardia, shigella, salmonella, and E. coli.
Take only under professional supervision. Do not take during pregnancy.