The Latin name for barberry is Berberis vulgaris. Common names for barberry include:
Amberparis, Berberry, Common Barberry, Epine Vinette, European Barberry, Mahonia, Pipperidge Bush.
France, Spain, Turkey, USA, and Barberry Coast. Naturalised in, or possibly native to, Britain. It prefers a sunny position and grows in hedges, roadsides, and clearings. The bark is harvested in the summer and can be dried for storing.
Native Americans made a bitter brew from the yellow root (or rhizome). Used in small doses, barberry tonic was reputed to be an effective treatment for heartburn, stomach upset, and ulcers. It was also held to stimulate appetite.
Barberry has been used in European and American herbalism to treat many conditions, especially infections and stomach problems. It has also been used to treat skin conditions.
Studies have determined that barberry contains a number of physiologically active alkaloids, the most useful being ‘berberine’, ‘berbamine’, and ‘oxyacanthine’.
The bitter compounds in barberry, including the alkaloids mentioned above, stimulate digestive function following meals.
Berberine can stimulate some immune system cells to function better, and has been found to exhibit some antibacterial activity, accounting for its traditional use as an antiseptic when applied to the skin. It can be used to treat diarrhoea caused by bacteria such as E. coli.
The bark and root bark are antiseptic, astringent, cholagogue, hepatic, purgative, stomachic, anti-emetic, bitter, laxative and tonic.
The flowers and the stem bark are anti-rheumatic.
Uses of barberry
Barberry is usually combined with other herbs into a herbal formula for the liver. All parts of the plant can be used. The plant is mainly used today as a tonic to improve the flow of bile and ameliorate conditions such as gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice. It should be used with caution.
Current herbal literature commonly recommends barberry tinctures 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 as a ‘palliative’ for menstrual irregularities.
Medicinally, all barberry species are used in much the same way. The roots or rhizomes are used because of the high berberine content, although the bark and berries are also used. In some species the leaves are used. If the pith and/or bark are yellow, high berberine content is indicated.
In June 1999 clinical testing suggested that barberry was effective in the treatment of psoriasis. Health Canada has approved a cream containing the root extract for the treatment of psoriasis and other skin conditions.
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. When jaundice occurs due to a congested state of the liver, barberry is also indicated.
As a bitter tonic with mild laxative effects, it is used with weak or debilitated people to strengthen and cleanse the system. It has been used to reduce an enlarged spleen.
Barberry tea is used as a gargle to soothe sore throats.
Dosage of barberry
A barberry formulation, such as the one mentioned below, can be taken at the rate of 1 capsule, or 15 drops, 3 times a day. A 3 month course is often about right.
For digestive conditions, barberry is often combined with other bitter herbs, such as gentian, in tincture form. Such mixtures are taken 15 to 20 minutes before a meal, usually 2-5 ml each time.
An ointment made from a 10% extract of barberry can be applied to the skin three times per day.
A tea/infusion can be prepared using 2 grams of the herb in a cup of boiling water. This can be repeated two to three times daily.
For a decoction, put l teaspoonful of the bark into a cup of cold water and bring to the boil. Leave for l0-l5 minutes. This should be taken three times a day.
In gall-bladder diseases barberry combines well with fringe tree bark and black root.
A combination can also be made with barberry, wild yam, dandelion, cramp bark, peppermint, catnep, fennel and ginger. This valuable formulation will generally support the liver if continued for 3 months or so.
Avoid Barberry if pregnant or nursing.