Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is a plant with a great potential and variety of uses. This shrub is native to Europe; it has gray, thorny branches growing to about 7-9 feet tall. Between April and June one can easily recognize barberry by bright yellow flowers bloom. They produce drooping bunches of red berries (1/2 inch long) in the fall.
The woody stems of the plant are covered with an ash-coloured bark, and the leaves are presented by the variety of shapes – the primary leaves are three-forked spines, while secondary ones are simple, oval, tapering at the base into a short foot-stalk. Barberry root, bark, and berries are widely used for medicinal preparations.
Barberry is distributed over the Europe, Northern Africa and temperate Asia; it is often found in copses and hedges and is grown in gardens as an ornamental shrub. Preferring sun or partial shade, barberries tolerate extreme climate and soil conditions and are commonly found in the southern landscape.
Stem-bark and root-bark of the plant are collected for various herbal preparations. The stem-bark has a bitter taste and a peculiar odor, when chewed it colors saliva yellow. Both barks possess similar medicinal properties. Also, dried berries used in herbal preparations possess a number of beneficial properties.
The whole herb is found at market in capsules, fluid extracts, tinctures, and topical ointments. Dried roots of barberry are commonly found in tea. Standardized barberry extracts contain 8 – 12% barberine (essential alkaloids).
A yellow crystalline, bitter alkaloid barberine is a main constituent for which the herb is valued in its beneficial actions. This chemical has been proved to inhibit the growth of bacteria in test tubes, and is also effective in helping the immune system function better. It also possesses hypotensive (causing a lowering of blood pressure), sedative, anti-inflammatory and anticonvulsant effects and is able to act on the smooth muscles which line the intestines, help improving digestion and reducing gastrointestinal pain.
Barberry has a variety of health benefits that make it a potent herbal enhancer.
It is used as an effective treatment for diarrhea (including from food poisoning) improving its symptoms fast and easily. Barberry acts as general bitter stomach tonic, regulating digestive powers, acting like purgative and removing constipation. It is also a remedy for dyspepsia and functional derangement of the liver. Acting on gallbladder, barberry herbal preparations improve bile flow and ameliorate conditions such as gallbladder pain, gallstones, and jaundice. Antiseptic properties of the plant are useful in cases of amebic dysentery, cholera, and other similar gastrointestinal infections.
Barberry helps in treatment of the variety of chronic skin conditions (like eczema or psoriasis), respiratory tract disorders (sore throat, nasal congestion, sinusitis, bronchitis), and candida (yeast) infections (of the skin or vagina).
Berberine-containing plants (such as barberry, goldenseal, and oregon) should be used carefully by pregnant and breast-feeding women. Side effect symptoms excessive berberine intake may show up as lethargy, nose bleed, skin and eye irritation, and kidney irritation.