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  • Berberis vulgaris L.
  • Berberidaceae
  • Barberry family

Common Names

herbsCommon barberry
herbsDaruharidra (Sanskrit name)
herbsEuropean barberry
herbsJaundice berry
herbsPepperidge bush
herbsWood turmeric

Parts Usually Used

Root, root-bark, berries

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Barberry is a densely branched, deciduous shrub 3-8 feet tall, with many tripartite spines on the yellowish branches; the root is yellow on the outside and its bark has a bitter taste. The stems, growing from 3-8 feet high, are reddish when young but turn dirty gray when older. The leaves are obovate to oval and have a soft, bristly point, grow crowded together on short shoots.

The small, yellow flowers, 10-20 per raceme, appear from April to June and hang from the branches in clusters. Petals are not notched. The flowers are followed by bright red, oblong berries 1/2 inch long grow in copious clusters, ripening in August and September, have an agreeable acid taste and should be eaten only when ripe.

Another variety: Amur barberry (Berberidis amerenis)

Where Found

Grows in hard, gravely soil in the northeastern states and sometimes in rich soils in the western states. In woods, fence rows, waste ground, roadsides and hedges.

Medicinal Properties

Tonic, purgative, hepatic, antiseptic, alterative, refrigerant, anthelmintic, bacteriocide, aoebicidal

Biochemical Information

Berberine alkaloid, chelidonic acid, resin, tannin, wax, berbamine, berberrubine, columbamine, hydrastine, jatrorrhizine, manganese, oxycanthine, palmatine, and vitamin C

Legends, Myths and Stories

Many species of barberry are found all over the world. They are all used for similar medicinal purposes by the different traditions. The yellow root was an important dye for baskets, buckskins, and fabric among Native Americans. The early Spanish-Americans used the yellow root to make neck-crosses (crucifixes).


The berries must be ripe when used; taken for fever or diarrhea, dysentery, typhus fever. The fresh juice used for mouthwash to strengthen gums or gargle. The root-bark contains berberine, a bitter alkaloid, that aids in the secretion of bile and is good for liver problems, acts as a mild purgative, and helps regulate the digestive processes, dyspepsia. Possible beneficial effect on the blood pressure by causing a dilatation of the blood vessels. Good for hepititis, colic, jaundice, diabetes, consumption. Used as a bitter tonic to stimulate digestion, and in the treatment of inflammatory arthritic, sciatica, and rheumatic complaints. Decreases heart rate, depresses the breathing, stimulates intestinal movement, reduces bronchial constriction, and kills bacteria on the skin. Externally, for sores, burns, ulcers, acne, itch, tetters, ringworm, cuts, bruises. As a tonic it will help convalescent patients recuperate. The berries can be made into jellies or cooked with other fruits.

Formulas or Dosages

Gather the root in spring or fall. Use only ripe berries.

Decoction: use 1/2 to 1 tsp. root bark with 1 cup water. Boil briefly, then steep for 5 minutes. Take 1/2 to 1 cup during the day, a mouthful at a time.

Tincture: take 3-7 drops, 3 or 4 times a day, in water.

Nutrient Content

Vitamin C


Avoid in pregnancy. Large doses harmful.

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