Herb: Chitra

Latin name: Berberis aristata

Synonyms: Berberis chitria, Berberis coriaria

Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Medicinal use of Chitra:

The dried stem, root bark and wood are alterative, antiperiodic, deobstruent, diaphoretic, laxative, ophthalmic and tonic (bitter). An infusion is used in the treatment of malaria, eye complaints, skin diseases, menorrhagia, diarrhoea and jaundice. Berberine, universally present in rhizomes of Berberis species, has marked antibacterial effects. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery. It should not be used with Glycyrrhiza species (Liquorice) because this nullifies the effects of the berberine. Berberine has also shown antitumour activity.

Description of the plant:


3.5 m
(11 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Shrubberies to 3500 metres. Open hillsides at elevations of 1800 - 3000 metres.

Edible parts of Chitra:

Fruit - raw or cooked. A well-flavoured fruit, it has a sweet taste with a blend of acid, though there is a slight bitterness caused by the seeds. The fruit is much liked by children. It is dried and used like raisins in India. The fruit contains about 2.3% protein, 12% sugars, 2% ash, 0.6% tannin, 0.4% pectin. There is 4.6mg vitamin C per 100ml of juice.The fruit is about 7mm x 4mm - it can be up to 10mm long. Plants in the wild yield about 650g of fruit in 4 pickings. Flower buds - added to sauces.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow dye is obtained from the root and the stem. An important source of dyestuff and tannin, it is perhaps one of the best tannin dyes available in India. The wood is used as a fuel. The spiny branches are used for making fencing around fields.

Propagation of Chitra:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, it should germinate in late winter or early spring. Seed from over-ripe fruit will take longer to germinate. Stored seed may require cold stratification and should be sown in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse or cold frame for at least their first winter. Once they are at least 20cm tall, plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. The seedlings are subject to damping off, so be careful not to overwater them and keep them well ventilated. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Very difficult, if not impossible. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, preferably with a heel, October/November in a frame. Very difficult, if not impossible.

Cultivation of the herb:

Shrubberies to 3500 metres. Open hillsides at elevations of 1800 - 3000 metres.

Known hazards of Berberis aristata:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.