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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

Barberry, AmurBarberry, ChineseBarberry, CommonBarberry, IndianBarberry, Nepal

NOTE: None of the barberries should be mixed with licorice as glycyrrhizin nullifies the antibacterial effects of the berberine.

(Berberis amurensis)
[xiao bo]

Root is antirheumatic.
Plant is anticancer.
The extract has been used for dysentary.
Berberine has shown some antitumor activity.

(Berberis sargentiana)
[sanke zhan]

A decoction of the plant has been used to lower fevers.
The seed kernals (jui-ho or pai-sui) have been used for nasal polyps.

aka Berberis dumetorum, Berberitz (Ger), Berbery, European Barberry, Holy Thorn, Jaundice berry, Pipperidge berry, Pipperidge bush, Sowberry
(Berberis vulgaris)
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DRUG INTERACTIONS •In human clinical studies, berbamine has shown ability to reverse leukopenia brought on by cancer therapies.
•In human clinical studies, topical application of 0.2% berberine as eye drops in conjunction with sulphacetamide solution were effective against Chlamydia trachomatis.

CONTRAINDICATED •NOT during pregnancy (uterine stimulant).
•NOT when there is liver cancer, viral hepatitis, toxic hepatitis, or cirrhosis.
•NOT when there is evidence of bile duct obstruction from gallstones, when there is inflammation of the bile ducts, when there is bile duct cancer.
•NOT when there is pancreatic cancer.
•NOT when there is jaundice in newborns, Gilbert's syndrome, or Crigler-Najjar syndrome.
•NOT when there is kidney disease.

CONTAINS: Same type of alkaloids present in Goldenseal root and Oregon grape root; chelidonic acid, resin, tannin, wax, albumin, starch, gum, astringent compounds, bitter compounds (alkaloids 3% + berberine and others), 9% starch. The constituent berberine is a yellow, bitter, crystalline, antibacterial alkaloid which is used in southeast Asian medicine to control dysentary and some eye diseases.
Roots contain berbamine (lowers blood pressure), berberine, berberubine, columbamine, jatorrhizine, oxyacanthine, and palmatine.
Berries rich in vitamin C, contain citric and malic acids.

A deciduous, spiny bush to 10-15 feet which is native to Europe and naturalized in the United States, but found growing in temperate climates worldwide. Stems woody, upright and branched, smooth, slightly grooved, brittle with a white pith and a with ash-colored bark. Flowers are small and yellow and appear in drooping clusters in April-May, followed by red fruit (berry) about 1/2" long, oblong, slightly curved, highly acidic, which is also used like raisins when dry.
The Arabic name Berberis (meaning shell), may be a reference to the glossy leaves. The Italians call it 'Holy Thorn' in the belief it formed part of Christ's crown of thorns.
Was recognized in historical times by the 'Doctrine of Signatures' in that it was used to cure jaundice due to its yellow wood. In ancient Egypt a bark syrup was mixed with fennel seeds and taken to prevent catching plague.
The bark was official in the USP from 1863 to 1882.
Astrologically ruled by Mars and assigned to the sign Scorpio.

Berberidis fructus = berry
Berberidis cortex = bark
Berberidis radicis cortex = root bark
Berberidis radix = root

PROPAGATION: By seed in spring to a depth of 1" in sandy loam. By softwood cuttings or semi-ripe cuttingsin summer. Usually by suckers, but better by layering of first year shoots in autumn.
NEEDS: Fertile, moist, well-draining soil in sun to part shade. Prune immediately after flowering. Cut back old stems and straggly growth in late winter. Susceptible to Armillaria root rot. Plays host to wheat rust (illegal to grow in some states and countries). There may be laws against its growth in your area. Check with your county agricultural agent.
HARVEST: Fruit in fall (used fresh and must be fully ripe). Stems and roots in autumn (bark is stripped when fresh). Bark and roots are dried for decoctions, liquid extracts and for powder. Young leaves and twigs are also taken. The pharmaceutical drug is extracted from the roots of various species. Berberine can also be found in the roots of the related Mahonia species.
PART USED: Mainly the ROOT BARK, but also the ROOTS (cut form), FRUITS, LEAVES, and STEMS.
Berberis canadensis aka Allegheny Barberry: In the eastern United States the berries were used by Native Americans. It was official in the USP (NY edition) 1831-42.
Berberis fendleri aka Colorado Barberry: The small red berries were eaten by the Native Americans of New Mexico.
Berberis trifoliata aka Agarita: A species of barberry found in Texas whose berries were used by Native Americans.
Berberis chengii: In Hunan it is considered alexeteric and bactericidal. It is used for abscesses, boils, burns, conjunctivitis, enteritis, fever, gastritis, gingivitis, inflammation, laryngitis, sores and trauma.
Berberis haematocarpa: Berries eaten by Native Americans of New Mexico.


Findings in the laboratory report that in small doses the respiratory system is stimulated, but large doses lead to severe dyspnea and spasms resulting in lethal primary paralysis of the respiratory system (inhibition of heart action was also observed). Large doses can also cause hemorrhagic nephritis. These results have been noted with the use of the purified alkaloid berberine.
Bitter tonic, alterative, anti-diarrheal, astringent, laxative, sedative tonic, anti-hemorrhagic, antifungal, antibiotic (effective against a variety of pathogens); hepatic. stimulates liver, spleen and uterus, lowers fever and blood pressure (alkaloid activity); anti-inflammatory, vermifuge. Possible antispasmodic properties. Antimicrobial activity is greater in the alkaline environment of the colon. Stimulates white blood cells. Regulates digestion. Root bark is hepatic and laxative and also used as a febrifuge and blood purifier. May help to fight damage from free radicals and stimulate the immune system. Berries are laxative and refrigerant.
Berberine (a primary alkaloid) is antibiotic, astringent and antifungal. In Chinese medicine, berberine is used as a broad spectrum antibiotic for bacteria and protozoa. In Chinese studies, local anaesthesia and hyperpigmentation has been noted following injections of berberine.
Berberine has also been used to help prevent and treat ventricular arrhythmias. In Chinese studies berberine reduced ventricular arrhythmias by more than 50% in over half the study participants.
Affects digestive and circulatory systems. Increases production of digestive enzymes.
Has been used in the form of liquid extract; given as a decoction, infusion or tincture; also a salt of Berberine.
Has also been used effectively against Candida albicans.
Has been used for infectious diarrhea, poor appetite, fever, and hemorrhage; also in cases of typhus to stop the bloody flux.
Has been used to calm nerves, constrict capillary blood blow, reduce muscle spasms.
Has been used for bleeding, cancer, dysentary, malaria, leishmaniasis (parasitic protozoa transmitted by sandfly), hepatitis, tumor (liver), gall bladder (stones).
Has been used for cancerous tumors and lumps of the liver, neck and stomach. Some test results have shown anti-cancer activity.
Has often been combined with Fringe Tree or Culver's root for gall bladder problems.
Has been used as a liver tonic and detoxicant.
Has been used for ailments of the kidney and urinary tract, liver diseases, bronchial problems, ailments of the spleen, spasms and as a stimulant for the circulatory system; also as a liver tonic for jaundice, hepatitis, and diabetes.
Was used historically in folk medicine for gastrointestinal ailments, lympthatics, urinary tract problems and respiratory infections. It has been combined with equal parts Rowan berries and Club moss for difficult urination and burning or painful urination; 1 tsp was steeped in 1/2 cup of boiling hot water for 10 minutes and taken 1/2 to 1 cup daily in mouthful doses spread out over the day.
Has been used in eye washes to relieve redness and control infection.
Has been used for loss of appetite.
In Ayurvedic medicine it is often combined with turmeric for liver problems and for diabetes. Has been used in liver and gallbladder cleansing formulas and has a mild laxative effect. Has also been used for general debility and biliousness. Has been used for chronic ills of the stomach and the early stages of tuberculosis, for general debility, liver and spleen problems. Historically it acquired the name as an 'old woman's medicine' due to its general use in infusion form as a stomach and liver agent. It was also used as a tonic for convalescent patients.
In New England a tincture was made by steeping the bark in hard cider in the following manner: 4 oz each of barberry, white poplar and wild cherry barks were crushed and steeped one week in a gallon of cider, then strained. The dose was 1 tbsp taken 3 times daily. It was taken as a digestive tonic and for cases of debilitation and convalesence.
At one time, jaundice was treated by taking the bark of the stem and infusing it in beer. The dose was from 1 to 2 oz twice daily.
Has also been used for cholera, scabies, itch, 'tetters', ringworm, bile, catarrhal conditions of the bronchial tubes.
Laboratory studies have shown it to be a heart stimulant in low doses, but a heart depressant in high doses. High doses will also depress breathing, stimulate the smooth muscle of the intestine and decrease bronchial constriction.
Berberine sulphate has shown activity in B1, KB and PS sysems, and oxyacanthine, activity in the KB system.The LD50 for berberine sulfate in mice is 24.3 mg/kg in introperitoneal application. (Commission E Monographs). Deaths due to respiratory paralysis occurred in anesthisized cats and dogs at 25 mg/kg; in addition a noticible inhibition of the heart action was observed.
The crushed berries mixed in water have been used as a gargle for sore throat. Berries also used in a drink for diarrhea and fevers.
Has been used for arthritis and rheumatism.
Has been used in debilitated conditions marked by poor digestive function and a history of excessive exposure to drugs, chemicals or industrial pollutants.
Has been used as a vermifuge for some internal parasites.
The following recipe has been used for the treatment of bad nerves and scurvy.
BARBERRY CONSERVE: Put freshly picked and fully ripe berries through a Squeezo equipped with a berry strainer to remove the skins and seeds (or a similar device). To 1 lb of the puree and juice add 3 oz of raw cane sugar and stir well. When sugar is dissolved, add 7 oz. of honey, then 7 to 8 oz of thick grape sugar syrup. Stir till all is well blended. If too thin, add more raw sugar. Put into sterile jars as you would jam.
The jelly of the berries was also used for catarrhal infections; are also anti-scorbutic and astringent. Berries were also chewed to promote good health and said to be useful for itch and other skin ailments.
The Penobscots pounded the roots or bark into a mash and applied it to ulcerated gums or sore throats.
The Catawbas boiled the stems and roots in tea for ulcerated stomach.
Has been used by Native Americans for ulcers, sores, consumption, heartburn, rheumatism. The root was chewed and the liquid placed on injuries and wounds. Cuts and bruises were washed in with a decoction of the root. The root tea was prepared for use as a blood tonic, a cough medicine and for kidney ailments.
A preparation of the bark or berries was used as a gargle for sore mouth and for chronic ophthalmia. The fresh juice of the berries was applied to gums to relieve pyorrhea (it was brushed on or applied directly to the gums.)
In Egypt an infusion of the berries was sweetened and combined with syrup of roses for fevers.
In Mongolia this species has been used to stop bleeding and treat diseases of the mucous membranes.
Official in the Russian Pharmacopeia since 1950 along with Amur Barberry, it has been used in extract form for female gential organs, inflammation of the gallbladder, to increase bile and to help reduce blood pressure. Was used in Russian folk medicine for the same purposes plus to staunch bleeding.
An infusion of the berries made with wine was used to purge the bowels.
Depending on the condition being treated, it has been combined with Golden Seal, Burdock, Yellow dock, Fringe tree, and Wild Cherry.

!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
[Barberry is well tolerated up to 0.5 grams per dose. Above that, reactions such as lethary, nose bleed, dyspnea, skin and eye irritation have been reported as well as kidney irritation and nephritis. Lethal poisonings have also been reported from overdoses. Can be used as an infusion, decoction, tincture, fluid extract, solid extract, pills, capsules, powder and syrup.]
FRESH BARK = 1 to 2 tbsp daily
POWDERED BARK = 1/4 tsp several times daily (1 tsp is purgative)
DRIED BARK = 0.5 to 2 grams daily
EXTRACT = 2 grams dried root in 10 ml water and 10 ml alcohol.
FLUID EXTRACT = 1/2 to 1 drachm OR 1/2 to 1 fluid dram
SOLID EXTRACT = 5 to 10 grains DECOCTION = 15 grams in 600 ml of water. OR: 1/2 to 1 tsp of root bark in 1 cup of water which is boiled briefly together, then steeped 5 minutes. 1/2 to 1 cup is taken during the day, a mouthful at a time.
TINCTURE = Up to 8 ml daily in 3 to 4 doses spread out through the day. (Or: 3 to 7 drops at a time in water 3 or 4 times daily - Or: 1/2 to 1 fl. dr.).
INFUSION = 1 tsp to 1 cup boiling water, steeped 10 minutes and taken 1 to 2 cupfuls over the course of a day in small doses (very bitter) a mouthful at a time.
Has also been used in pill and capsule forms.
OVERDOSE = mild stupor, nosebleeds, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney irritation. SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION!

Used for biliary colic, bilious attack, bladder problems, calculus, catarrh of the duodenum, dysmenorrhea, fevers, fistula, gall stones, gravel, herpes, irritation, jaundice, joint problems, knee pain, leucorrhea, liver problems, lumbago, opthalmia, oxaluria, polypus, renal colic, rheumatism, sacrum pain, side pain, neuralgia of the spermatic cords, spleen problems, tumors, disorders of the urinary tract, vaginismus.
DOSE is tincture to the 6th potency.

The berries are used for jellies, jams, preserves, pies, chutneys, and can be candied to use as cake decorations. They are also pickled for meat dishes. The jelly was once used in sugar plums and comfits.
The berries were once employed in the making of comfitures d'epine vinette for which Rouen was famous. In former times, the slightly acidic leaves have been used to season meat.
Also see Cooking with Herbs and Wild Foods

The roots are harvested in late summer or fall and used fresh or dried. Color fastness is fair to good. The leaves produce black with copperas mordant. Roots produce yellow with no mordant, but will yield a lighter yellow with an alum mordant. The inner bark of the stems also produce a yellow dye with alum mordant. Twigs and young leaves produce a red-yellow with no mordant.

Can be used in the knot garden. It is easily trained and pruned to turn and twist through the design. It can also be used as a hedge.

Native Americans have used the yellow root to dye baskets, buckskins and fabric.
Spanish Americans have used the yellow root in the past to make crucifixes which were worn around the neck.
The fresh juice has been used as a mouthwash or gargle and the fresh berries chewed to sweeten the breath.
Was much used by patent medicine vendors.
The wood has been used for tools, decorative artifacts, gunstocks, inlay or mosaic work.

(Berberis asiatica)

PART USED: Root bark. The root bark is light in color, being corky and having almost no odor and with a bitter, mucilaginous taste. In India, a dark brown extract (Rusot) is prepared.

In Ayuvedic medicine it is known generally as 'daruharida' or 'wood turmeric' due to having similar properties to turmeric (Curcuma longa). B. aristata (Himalayas) also shares this distinction. From the varities used in India, 7 tons of the drug are extracted from 600 to 700 tons of root. It is used for tropical diarrhea and some eye diseases.

aka Darlahad, Ophthalmic barberry
Berberis aristata
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CONTAINS: Berberine, tannin, resin, gum, starch, and other alkaloidal materials.

Shrub which is native to India and Ceylon.

PART USED: Dried stems.

Indian Barberry
B. lycium: Not recognized as official in the B.P. or the earlier Indian and Colonial Addendum. Its dried stems were used for intermittent fever.

Bitter tonic, anti-periodic, diaphoretic.

©2000-2006 by Ernestina Parziale, CH