Herb Library

Back to Herb Menu     Back to Index

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.

BarleyBarley, Wild

aka Pearl Barley, Perlatum
(Hordeum vulgare)

NOTE: Not to be fed to nursing mothers; suppresses lactation.

CONTAINS: Barley is the most alkaline of the cereals and is rich in magnesium. Pearl barley is 80% starch and 8-19% proteins and cellulose with other constituents making up the rest (enzymes, thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin, chlorine, phosphorus, iron). Contains the alkaloid hordenine which is diuretic and mildly relaxing (chest).
The stem juice contains chlorophyllins and anti-oxident activity.
Sprouts contain anylase, invertase, dextrin, phospholipid, maltose, glucose and vitamin B.

An annual grass growing to a height of 1½ to 3 feet. The stout simple stem (culm) is hollow and jointed. The narrow tapering leaves with pronounced 'ear' appendages are alternate and arise on stems in 2 ranks. They form loose sheaths around the stem. The flowers appear in bristly terminal spikes. There are 2 principle types: 2-rowed (H. distichum) and 6-rowed (H. polystichum). Each seed is enclosed in a strong hull which remains intact even during threshing.
It was domesticated in the mid-east about 10,000 years ago. The Ebers Papyrus of about 1550 BC, menions barley in various recipes for laxatives, expelling intestinal worms and for use as poultices for burns and fractures. It is also mentioned in records of Chinese medicine from the 16th century. Seeds have been found in tombs of Asia Minor dating from 3500 BC. It was the chief grain for breadmaking in Europe until it was replaced by wheat and rye. It was brought to North America by early settlers.
There are 2 types of seeds used - "pearl" barley (decorticated, meaning without the husk) and "malted" barley (sprouted seeds). A lesser known variety is called "Scotch" barley which is the grain with only a portion of the husk removed. At one time it was adulterated with french chalk and starch to whiten and increase its weight. Major producers in the United States are North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, and California. Also, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba in Canada.
Barley water was once used to dilute cow's milk for infants.
'Hordeum' is the Latin word for barley.
Astrologically said to be ruled by the planet Saturn and the sign Capricorn.

PROPAGATION: By seed in spring. One source states it should be planted when the moon is middle waxing.
NEEDS: Grown as a crop. Requires well-drained soil in sun.
HARVEST: Seeds in autumn.
PART USED: Seed [mai ya]


Sweet, warming, demulcent, body-building, tissue healing, expectorant, abortifacient, febrifuge, stomachic, tonic, vulnerary, soothes irritated tissues, stimulates appetite, digestive aid, suppresses lactation (not given to nursing mothers).
Has been used internally for indigestion, especially in babies, and for Candida albicans infections . Has also been used for excessive lactation, hepatitis, distention (sprouts), coughs, and debility (barley water).
Malt extract has been used for weak digestion.
Barley water has been used for coughs, poor appetite, recurrent diarrhea in children, catarrhal inflammed bowel, stomach irritation and digestion during convalescence. Sometimes combined with chamomile for pain although it is not anodyne.
A nutritive or demulcent decoction has been made from pearl barley and used for feverish conditions and catarrhs of the respiratory and urinary organs.
Has been used for urinary cystitis particularly in females: Boil till soft and strain the liquid and flavor with a little lemon juice or cinnamon or fresh fruit juice. Sometimes combined with corn silk or couch grass for urinary stones, infections or irritations. For severe bladder and urinary passage irritation, adding cooked barley to 1 oz. dissolved gum arabic (or gelatin of Irish moss or Agar-agar) and 2 glasses of boiling water has been used; when cool, it is stirred and drunk.
Water distilled from the fresh green barley has been used externally when there is a film over the eyes or for pain by saturating white bread in the water, squeezing gently and applying to eyes.
Its sodium content keeps calcium in solution making it useful for arthritis and rheumatism.
Barley broth (see recipe) has been used for post-op nutrition.
Seeds have been used as a poultice for burns and wounds.
Whole plant is anti-tumor. The cooked barley has been used externally on tumors and sores.
In Chinese medicine the slightly carbonized grains are soaked in boiling water to produce a cooling drink.
The stem juice has been taken as a tonic and aid to the digestive system. Also taken as part of a nutritious diet for maintenance and sugar balance (especially for hypoglycemia and diabetes).
Malt sugar extract containing maltrose is demulcent, nutritive and antispasmodic. It has been used to moisten lungs, stop coughs and treat weak digestion. Also for abdominal pain, especially in children.
The sprouts are demulcent, expectorant, lenitive, peptic, stomachic, sometimes abortifacient and said to have an effect on the spleen. They have been used to aid digestion and as a carminative. Have also been used to help dry mother's milk, for a weak stomach, loss of appetite, to help infants in the digestion of milk and are good for digestive problems involving Candida albicans overgrowth. Also for phthisis and tabes mesenterica.
Shoots are diuretic and have also been applied to chilblains and frozen extremities.
Nutritionally useful in wasting illnesses and debility of any kind.

!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
BARLEY WATER = 1 to 4 oz. See recipes below.
BARLEY BROTH = See recipe below.
MALT SUGAR= 30-60 grams
SPROUTS (as powder) = 5 to 15 grams; 12-30 grams in decoction (up to 60 grams to inhibit lactation)

Used as blood cleanser and blood cooler during hot weather.
Barley flour is used externally for skin ailments.
Barley water used as kidney remedy and for bladder ailments. It is also used in cases of canine parvovirus to avoid rapid dehydration; it is combined for this purpose with a strong sage tea and honey.

Because of its low gluten content, barley is unsuitable alone for breadmaking. Some barley flour can be added to other bread recipes though for flavor and nutrition.
Pearl barley is cooked in soups and stews and infused with orange or lemon to make barley water.
Seeds are ground for flour.
Seeds are roasted, then ground as a coffee substitute.

An astringent skin freshner to cleanse and soften normal skin: Simmer 3 tbsp barley in 3 cups water for 1 hour. Strain and cool. Keep refrigerated. After using, rinse off face.

Seeds are sprouted, then kiln-dried to produce 'wort' (malt) which is used for brewing beer, distilling whiskey, and making malt extracts. Also known as diastatic malt it is also used in breadmaking.
Malt vinegar is an acid liquid produced by oxidation of fermented malt 'wort'.
Used as feed for livestock. The by-products of malt left after making beer are used as cattle feed.


Method 1 = Add 10 parts washed pearl barley to 100 parts water and boil for 20 minutes. Strain. Dose is 1 to 4 oz.
Method 2 = Boil 2 oz pearl barley for a few minutes in a little water; then strain and add barley to 4 pints of boiling water and boil till water is reduced to 2 pints. Add lemon juice or raisins (if desired) 10 minutes before cooking is completed.
Method 3 = Soak 1/2 lb. barley in 1 quart water for 12 hours or simmer till soft. Strain and sweeten with honey if desired. Give several cups per day.
Method 4 = Wash 2 oz. of barley, then discard the water. Boil briefly in 1 pint of water, then discard the water again. Place barley in 4 pints of water and add lemon peel; boil down to 2 pints; strain and add 2 oz of honey to the water.
Method 5 = 4 oz. whole barley, 2 oz honey, lemon peel (washed), 1/2 lemon. Add 1 pint of water to the barley, lemon and lemon peel. Simmer till soft, then remove from heat and let stand. Strain and add honey.
COMPOUND BARLEY WATER = 2 pints barley water, 1 pint hot water, 2½ oz. sliced figs, 1/2 oz sliced and bruised licorice root, 2½ oz. raisins. Boil down to 2 pints and strain. (Dian Dincin Buchman)
BARLEY BROTH= Simmer 1 cup of barley in 6 cups of water. Bring water to boil for 2 minutes, then let stand for 15 minutes. Strain out barley and set aside. The water should be drunk during convalescence. The barley can also be eaten (can be blended with honey to give a pudding-like flavor).
DECOCTION = Wash 2 oz. of barley with cold water, then boil in 1 cup of water for a few minutes. Discard water and boil barley in 4 pints of water till redue to 2 pints. Strain and use.

Wild barley can be found growing in lime-rich earth.

aka Squirreltail, Flickertail, Skunktail
(Hordeum jubatum)
Native Americans of Utah, Nevada and Oregon used the seeds.
(Hordeum pusillum)
Favors the saline soil of the western United States.
aka Squirreltail, Foxtail, Flickertail, Skunktail
(Hordeum murinum)
Seeds were used for pinole by indians of California.
(Hordeum nodosum)
No Image Available
Found in the midwest and western United States.

©2000 & 2006 by Ernestina Parziale, CH