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Berberis vulgaris L. Barberry

Family: Berberidaceae
Description: “Deciduous shrub with yellow roots, grooved, yellow-grey stems, 3-pronged spines and obovate, toothed leaves. Yellow flowers are produced in pendent racemes, up to 6cm long, in spring, followed by slender, oval, red fruits. H 2m, S 1.2m. Fully hardy.” (Bown, 1995: 93)
Habitat: Native to hedge and scrub throughout most of Europe.
Harvest: “Fruits are gathered in autumn and used fresh; stems and roots are collected in autumn and stripped of bark when fresh.” (Bown, 1995: 248)

Part used: Stem and root bark
Dosage: 1:5 Tincture: 0.5-3ml tds, Fluid Extract: 0.5-1ml tds, Dried: 0.5-1g

-mild laxative,

Indications (Mills and Bone, 2000):
“Controls gastrointestinal infections ; improves flow of bile.”
-jaundice; biliousness; cholecystitis, gallstones; liver disorders; as digestive stimulant, diarrhoea; constipation (in large doses)
-acute infectious diarrhoea; trachoma (as eyedrops); giardiasis ; cutaneous leishmaniasis (topically) -all* on berberine.
-bacterial and fungal infections; amoebic dysentery; malaria; tapeworm infestations -all**
-nausea; ‘catarrh’ conditions; cirrhosis; ascites; heart tonic (AD)

Safety: No adverse effects when used within recommended dosage.
Contra-indications: Not recommended during pregnancy; obstructive jaundice; diarrhoea, IBS; gallstones.

Key Constituents (Mills and Bone, 2000):
-ALKALOIDS (up to 13%), incl. ISOQUINOLINES: protoberberines (berberine(up to 6%), jatrorrhizine, palmatine) and bisbenzylisoquinolines (up to 5%), incl. oxyacanthine).

Pharmacology: Extensive experiments in vitro and using rats/ mice have demonstrated the following activity: Antimicrobial and Antiparasitic, Antidiarrhoeal, Cardiovascular, Cytotoxic, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-spasmodic, suppress lipogenesis on sebaceous glands (may be useful in acne vulgaris) -see Mills and Bone, 2000: pp289-291.

Clinical trials: Many trials with successful outcomes against the following: diarrhoea and cholera; other gastrointestinal effects; trachoma; giardiasis; liver cirrhosis; diabetes mellitus; and others.
Toxicology: Only in prolonged administration of berberine

History: Taken in spring months as blood purifier. The Eclectics regarded Berberis primarily as a tonic but it was also used for conditions affecting the liver and gallbladder, diarrhoea, dysentry and parasitical infections including malaria.

Traditional and Practitioner sources:
“Stimulating tonic hepatic: influences mucosa generally, removing mucoid accumulations and controlling excess secretion. Improves appetite, digestion and assimilation. Indicated for gouty constitutions. Indications:
-Biliary catarrh with constipation and jaundice;
-Gastritis, biliousness -(small doses) with Prunus/ Populus;
-Debility in convalescence -(small doses) with alteratives;
-Ulcerative stomatitis -decoction as mouthwash;
-Eczema of the hands.” Priest and Priest (1983: 100)


Bel Charlesworth Medical Herbalist

Bel Charlesworth MNIMH
Medical Herbalist

BSc Herbal Medicine

Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists since 2003

Tel: 07775 920079

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