Herb: Barley

Latin name: Hordeum vulgare

Synonyms: Hordeum sativum

Family: Gramineae (Grass Family)

Medicinal use of Barley:

The shoots are diuretic. The seed sprouts are demulcent, expectorant, galactofuge, lenitive and stomachic. They are sometimes abortifacient. They are used in the treatment of dyspepsia caused by cereals, infantile lacto-dyspepsia, regurgitation of milk and breast distension. They are best not given to a nursing mother since this can reduce milk flow. The seed is digestive, emollient, nutritive, febrifuge and stomachic. It is taken internally as a nutritious food or as barley water (an infusion of the germinated seed in water) and is of special use for babies and invalids. Its use is said to reduce excessive lactation. Barley is also used as a poultice for burns and wounds. The plant has a folk history of antitumour activity. The germinating seed has a hypoglycaemic effect preceded by a hyperglycaemic action. Modern research has shown that barley may be of aid in the treatment of hepatitis, whilst other trials have shown that it may help to control diabetes. Barley bran may have the effect of lowering blood cholesterol levels and preventing bowel cancer.

Description of the plant:


100 cm
(3 1/4 foot)

June to

Habitat of the herb:

Not known in the wild, it is found in Britain as a relict of cultivation but does not persist.

Edible parts of Barley:

Seed - cooked as a whole grain or ground up and used as a flour for making bread, porridges etc. It has a low gluten content and so is unsuitable for making wheat-type breads. The seed can be fermented into sourdough and many other fermented foods such as "tempeh" and "miso". The seed can also be sprouted and added to salads or the sprouted seed juiced and the juice drunk as a health-food drink. The decorticated seed is called pearl barley. This is no longer viable since the decortication process damages the embryo. It is used in soups, stews etc. Malt is obtained by sprouting the whole seed and then roasting it. The seed is then ground into a flour and boiled in water. The resulting liquid is very sweet and can be used in making beer or other drinks, and as a nutritious sweetener in various foods. The roasted (unsprouted) seed is used as a coffee and a salt substitute.

Other uses of the herb:

The stems, after the seed has been harvested, have many uses. They are a source of fibres for making paper, a biomass for fuel etc, they can be shredded and used as a mulch.

Propagation of Barley:

Seed - sow in situ in March or October and only just cover the seed. Make sure the soil surface does not dry out if the weather is dry. Germination takes place within 2 weeks.

Cultivation of the herb:

Not known in the wild, it is found in Britain as a relict of cultivation but does not persist.

Known hazards of Hordeum vulgare:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.