Botanical Name: Berberis vulgaris.

Other Common Names: Mountain grape, pepperidge, berberry, common grape, common barberry, European barberry.

Habitat: Barberry is native to Europe and Asia, and it has been introduced to North America where it can be found growing wild from Canada to Pennsylvania.

Because it is such an adaptable plant, its habitat varies extremely as any soil and condition is conducive to its growth. When left to grow wild it can grow as tall as 7 to 10 feet high. Barberry prefers areas of full sunlight with some partial shade.

Plant Description: The shrub itself has gray, thorny branches with bright yellow flowers that bloom between April and June. The flowers turn into drooping, dark red berries in the fall.

Plant Parts Used: When barberry is intended as herbal medicine it is primarily the stem, root bark, and fruit that are used.

barberry plant

Barberry Plant (Berberis vulgaris) – Attribution: Sten Porse

Therapeutic Uses, Benefits and Claims of Barberry

Barberry is closely related to Oregon grape. Barberry, Oregon grapegolden seal and coptis all contain isoquinolone alkaloids.

Berberine is the most prominent of these alkaloids and according to laboratory studies, it has an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, sedative, and anticonvulsant effect.

Berberine is possibly an immune system stimulant and helps with digestion and gastrointestinal pain. It is found in the stem bark and rhizome of the plant.

Berbamine is another alkaloid found in the herb and is thought to fight infections by stimulating the action of white blood cells.

This medicinal herb has been used for more than 2500 years in Asia and the Mediterranean. In ancient Egypt barberry was used as a preventative against plague. The Ayurveda healers of India used it as a remedy for dysentery.

Barberry has traditionally been used as a treatment for digestive disorders, skin irritations and lesions. It has anti inflammatory and antibiotic properties and has been used in the treatment of urinary tract and bladder infections, upper respiratory infections and abnormal uterine bleeding.

It may be beneficial to the cardiovascular and neural systems and may be used as a treatment for epilepsy and convulsions. It has also been used as an alternative treatment for tachycardia and hypertension.

Barberry extract used in a salve may reduce symptoms of psoriasis, but there is currently not enough clinical evidence to support this claim.

It is commonly used to treat bacterial diarrhea and parasitic infections of the intestines.

It is also used to treat fungal infections such as candida (yeast).

Additionally it may aid in digestion and prevent some symptoms of indigestion such as heartburn and nausea.

Like its cousin oregon grape, barberry is thought to stimulate blood flow to the liver and improve liver function. It is also believed to stimulate the secretion of bile.

Dosage and Administration:

barberry herb

The Herb Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) – ©The Herbal Resource

Barberry is not recommended for children as there has not been enough research on the plant to warrant any form of dosing information.

For adults, it can be used in many different ways and in variety of forms such as a tisane, dried herb, tablet, tincture or capsule.

As a tea: Whole or crushed berries that are steeped in 2/3 cups of boiling water for 10-15 minutes is the preferred method of administration. 2 to 4 grams of dried root or 1 to 2 tsp can also be used.

As a tincture: ½ to 1-1/2 tsp. or 250 to 500 milligrams of dry extract three times daily.

As an ointment: 10% barberry extract applied to the skin three times a day.

The dosage and method of delivery will depend on the condition being treated. Some conditions, like digestive problems, benefit from ingestion of the herb, while skin conditions may benefit more from the topical application of a salve. A doctor or herbalist can give the best advice on dosage.

balloon flower

Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) – ©The Herbal Resource

Potential Side Effects of Barberry

As with other herbs containing berberine, barberry should not be used by pregnant women because it is a uterine stimulant.

No studies have been done on the safety of it in nursing women and therefore it is probably best to avoid using it while nursing.

Used in appropriate doses, barberry has no reported side effects. In excessive doses it may cause nosebleed, diarrhea and vomiting. It may also cause kidney problems. Pain during urination, blood in the urine and low back pain are symptoms of kidney problems and should be reported to a doctor immediately.

This herb may interact with other medications, so it is important for patients to advise their doctor if they are taking this it.

Patients who are under the care of a doctor and taking prescribed medications should not take it until they have discussed it with their doctor.

Before taking barberry as a remedy, patients should discuss the medical condition and therapeutic benefits with a doctor or herbalist.