Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), also known as sowberry, piperage or jaundice berry, is a deciduous shrub that is native to Europe and naturalized in different parts of North America. It is a thorny plant that produces yellow flowers in springtime followed by purple berries in the fall. Barberry can grow as tall as ten feet. Medicinal properties are found in the root bark, stem bark, leaves, and berries.
Infections (Burns, Cuts, Scrapes and Wounds)
Barberry contains a chemical called berberine which is an effective antibacterial agent. It works by keeping the bacteria from sticking to human cells while encouraging the activity of cells called macrophages in the immune system.
Berberine is an effective antibiotic and kills various infections microorganisms, including Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. Because it both kills bacterial infections and supports the immune system, barberry is used in treating any number of infections, from eliminating germs found in cuts and abrasions to treatments for infections of the bladder, sinuses, and reproductive system. It also protects against infection in serious burns.
Berberine has been shown in some studies to be more effective than sulfa drugs, and it can act as an anti-fungal for certain types of fungi. It is effective against some bacteria that are resistant to other antibiotics.
Stomach Disorders (Ulcers, Gastritis, Diarrhea, Dysentery)
The antibiotic effects of the berberine in barberry are helpful against stomach disorders brought on by bacteria, such as ulcers, some forms of diarrhea, and dysentery. Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacteria that contributes to both chronic gastritis and gastric ulcers, is killed by berberine, as is Salmonella, a bacteria that causes diarrhea. In addition, barberry eases muscle spasms, which can be helpful in treating stomach disorders.
A common treatment for ulcers is to crush the leaves or roots of the barberry, boil them in water, and drink the resulting decoction. Diarrhea caused by cholera can be treated with 100 mg of barberry taken four times a day.
A word of caution: although barberry has antibiotic properties that could help kill the germs that cause food poisoning, the herb’s antispasmodic effect can prevent the intestines from moving the contaminated food through quickly. As a result, barberry isn’t recommended in situations where stomach upset is due to food poisoning.
Gallstones and Liver Problems
Barberry root bark has alkaloids which stimulate the production of bile. It has been used to treat gallbladder inflammation, gallstones and other liver problems.
Barberry is used as a treatment for malarial fevers, and herbalists believe that it works as well as quinine. The bark of the plant and root are used as either a decoction (150 gms between paroxysms of fever) or an infusion (25 to 75 gms two to three times a day). A decoction of the barberry root can be used to treat enlargement of the spleen due to malaria.
A decoction of the berries of the barberry plant can be used to treat high blood pressure. It works by dilating blood vessels which allows blood pressure to lessen and improves blood coagulation.
The berberine found in barberry fights against Candida albicans. Berberine also slows bacterial infections which, when treated with antibiotics, can cause overgrowth of Candida albicans. In addition, berberine encourages the immune system to function more effectively against yeast infections.
Barberry improves uterine contractions which help reduce excessive menstrual bleeding. For that same reason, barberry is not recommended during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.
Barberry contains a chemical called palmitine hydroxide which has been shown to slow the maturation of sperm, so it is not recommended for men trying to start a family. It should be used with care by people with diabetes due to a tendency to sharply lower blood sugar. Consuming barberry extract too often may cause stomach upset.