Herb: Dwarf Barberry

Latin name: Mahonia pumila

Synonyms: Berberis pumila

Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Medicinal use of Dwarf Barberry:

A decoction of the roots is used as a blood tonic and as a treatment for coughs. Berberine, universally present in rhizomes of Mahonia species, has marked antibacterial effects and is used as a bitter tonic. 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. The root and root bark are best harvested in the autumn.

Description of the plant:


30 cm
(11 3/4 inch)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Mountains. Open woods and rocky areas at elevations of 300 - 1200 metres.

Edible parts of Dwarf Barberry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. We have seen no reports of edibility for this species, but it is certainly not poisonous. The fruit is likely to have an acid flavour and be suitable for making jams. jellies etc. The fruit is about 10mm in diameter.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow dye is obtained from the inner bark of the stem and roots. It is green. Dark green, violet and dark blue-purple dyes are obtained from the fruit. A green dye is obtained from the leaves. This species forms suckers freely and should make a good dense ground cover in a sunny position.

Propagation of Dwarf Barberry:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. It usually germinates in the spring. "Green" seed (harvested when the embryo has fully developed but before the seed case has dried) should be sown as soon as it is harvested and germinates within 6 weeks. Stored seed should be sown as soon as possible in late winter or spring. 3 weeks cold stratification will improve its germination, which should take place in 3 - 6 months at 10C. Prick out the seedlings when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out in late spring or early summer. Division of suckers in spring. Whilst they can be placed direct into their permanent positions, better results are achieved if they are potted up and placed in a frame until established. Leaf cuttings in the autumn.

Cultivation of the herb:

Mountains. Open woods and rocky areas at elevations of 300 - 1200 metres.

Known hazards of Mahonia pumila:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.