Herb: Darwin's Barberry

Latin name: Berberis darwinii

Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Medicinal use of Darwin's Barberry:

The root bark is tonic. Berberine, universally present in all parts of Berberis species but especially the rhizomes, has marked antibacterial effects, especially upon the urinary system. 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 m
(9 3/4 foot)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Moist shady woodland in the Patagonian mountains.

Edible parts of Darwin's Barberry:

Fruit - raw or cooked and used in preserves. An acid but very pleasant flavour, children seem particularly fond of the fruit. When fully ripe, the fruit loses most of its acidity and makes very pleasant eating. Unfortunately there is a lot of seed compared to the amount of flesh and this does detract somewhat from the pleasure of eating it. The fruit goes very well raw in a muesli or cooked in a porridge. The fruits are about 7mm long.

Other uses of the herb:

Plants are very amenable to trimming and can be used as a formal hedge. They also make a very good informal hedge, their long arching branches looking especially attractive when in flower or bearing fruit. The plants tolerate maritime exposure though they are slow growing. A yellow dye is obtained from the root and bark.

Propagation of Darwin's Barberry:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, when it should germinate in late winter or early spring. Seed from over-ripe fruit will take longer to germinate, whilst stored seed may require cold stratification and should be sown in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. The seedlings are subject to damping off, so should be kept well ventilated. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame. If growth is sufficient, it can be possible to plant them out into their permanent positions in the autumn, but generally it is best to leave them in the cold frame for the winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, preferably with a heel, October/November in a frame.

Cultivation of the herb:

Moist shady woodland in the Patagonian mountains.

Known hazards of Berberis darwinii:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.