Barberry is a thorned deciduous shrub with woody stems, growing 8 to 10 feet high. It is upright and branched, smooth, slightly grooved, brittle, with a white pith and covered with an ash-colored bark.
Leaves: Alternate or in rosettes Barberry Flowers
from previous year’s leaf axils; spatula shaped, with numerous spiny teeth; veins on the underside are prominent.
Flowers: The flowers are small, pale yellow, arranged in pendulous racemes, 10 to 20 per raceme, towards the ends of the branches. Petals are not notched.
Berries: About 1/2 inch long, the bright red, oblong and slightly curved berries ripen in August and September. Bark: Has a slight odor and a bitter taste; colors the saliva yellow when chewed.
Root Bark: Yellow.
Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)
Other Names: Berbery, Common Barberry, Jaundice berry, Mahonia
Pepperidge, Pepperidge bush, Pipperidge bush, Sowberry
Flowers: April – June
Parts Used: Bark of root or stem.
Habitat: Hard, gravelly soil in the northeastern states, and sometimes in rich soils in the western states.
Harvest: Gather the Barberry root and stem bark in spring or fall, around March and November.
History: Barberry has been used in herbal healing for more than 2,500 years. The ancient Egyptians used it to prevent plagues. India’s Ayurveda healers used it for dysentery.
During the middle ages, European herbalists used Barberry to treat liver and gallbladder ailments, infections, stomach problems and skin conditions. Russian healers used it for inflammations, high blood pressure, and for abnormal uterine bleeding.
Native American Indians made a bitter brew from the yellow root. Used in small doses, Barberry tonic was used as an effective treatment for heartburn, stomach upset and ulcers. It was also used to stimulate appetite.
Constituents: Berberine (a yellow crystalline, bitter alkaloid), oxyacanthine, berbamine (another bitter alkaloid), tannin, wax, resin, fat, albumin, gum, and starch.
Properties: Anti-emetic, Antiseptic, Astringent, Bitter, Cholagogue, Hepatic, Laxative, Purgative, Refrigerant, Stomachic, and Tonic.
Main Uses: Barberry is mainly used today as a tonic to improve the flow of bile in such conditions as gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice. Barberry tinctures are used as a treatment for liver problems such as hepatitis and jaundice. It is also considered effective in lowering blood pressure, reducing heart rate and respiration, reducing bronchial constriction, and for menstrual irregularities.
Berberine has strong anti-microbial and fungicidal properties. It is also astringent and anti-inflammatory. It is said to make a good eyewash. Inflamed eyelids or conjunctivitis can benefit from the application of a compress.
Barberry is one of the best remedies for correcting liver function and promoting the flow of bile. It is indicated when there is an inflammation of the gall bladder or in the presence of gallstones. Barberry is also used when jaundice occurs due to a congested state of the liver.
Barberry tea is used as a gargle to soothe sore throats.
Preparation And Dosages:
Tincture: [1:5, 50% alcohol] 3 to 7 drops, 3 to 4 times a day.
Decoction: Use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon root bark with 1 cup water. Boil briefly, then steep for 5 minutes. Take 1/2 to 1 cup during the day, a mouthful at a time.
Ointment: An ointment made from a 10% extract of Barberry can be applied to the skin three times a day.
Combinations: In gall-bladder diseases Barberry combines well with Fringe Tree Bark and Culver’s Root.
Caution! Avoid during pregnancy; Barberry may stimulate the uterus. In high doses, it can cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions, drop in blood pressure, and lowered heart rate and breathing. If you suffer from heart disease or chronic respiratory problems, do not take large doses of this herb and use only with the approval of your physician.