Herb: Barberry

Latin name: Berberis vulgaris

Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Medicinal use of Barberry:

Barberries have long been used as a herbal remedy for the treatment of a variety of complaints. All parts of the plant can be used though the yellow root bark is the most concentrated source of active ingredients. The plant is mainly used nowadays as a tonic to the gallbladder to improve the flow of bile and ameliorate conditions such as gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice. The bark and root bark are antiseptic, astringent, cholagogue, hepatic, purgative, refrigerant, stomachic and tonic. The bark is harvested in the summer and can be dried for storing. It is especially useful in cases of jaundice, general debility and biliousness, but should be used with caution. The flowers and the stem bark are antirheumatic. The roots are astringent and antiseptic. They have been pulverized in a little water and used to treat mouth ulcers. A tea of the roots and stems has been used to treat stomach ulcers. The root bark has also been used as a purgative and treatment for diarrhoea and is diaphoretic. A tincture of the root bark has been used in the treatment of rheumatism, sciatica etc. The root bark is a rich source of the alkaloid berberine (about 6%). 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 and is also effective in the treatment of hypersensitive eyes, inflamed lids and conjunctivitis. A tea made from the fruits is antipruritic, antiseptic, appetizer, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and laxative. It is also used as a febrifuge. The fruit, or freshly pressed juice, is used in the treatment of liver and gall bladder problems, kidney stones, menstrual pains etc. The leaves are astringent and antiscorbutic. A tea made from the leaves is used in the treatment of coughs. The plant (probably the inner bark) is used by homeopaths as a valuable remedy for kidney and liver insufficiency.

Description of the plant:


3 m
(9 3/4 foot)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Light deciduous woodland, hedges, roadsides, clearings etc, preferring a sunny position and a chalky soil.

Edible parts of Barberry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Rich in vitamin C, the fruit has a very acid flavour and is mainly used in preserves, though children and some adults seem to like it raw when it is fully ripe. A refreshing lemon-like drink can be made from the fruit. The fruits are about 10mm long. Young leaves - used as a flavouring or as an acid nibble. They can be used in much the same way as sorrel (Rumex acetosa). The dried young leaves and shoot tips make a refreshing tea.

Other uses of the herb:

Plants can be grown as a medium-size hedge in exposed positions but they cannot tolerate extreme maritime exposure. They are very tolerant of trimming but can also be left untrimmed if required. A good quality yellow dye is obtained from the roots, bark and stem. As well as being used on cloth, it is also used to stain wood. The unripe fruit is dried and used as beads. Wood - soft, very hard, fine grained, yellow. Used for carving, toothpicks, mosaics etc. It is also used as a fuel.

Propagation of 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. Germination averages out at about 90%. 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. Suckers, removed in late autumn/early winter and planted out in situ or potted up and planted out in late spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Light deciduous woodland, hedges, roadsides, clearings etc, preferring a sunny position and a chalky soil.

Known hazards of Berberis vulgaris:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.