This medicinal herb has a long history for being helpful for the digestive system. It may also help fight off infections and enhance immune functioning, while supplying the body with extra Vitamin C.
Berberis vulgaris, berberry, pipperidge, jaundice berry, sow berry, mountain grape
Barberry’s a dark, thorny bush, with heavy branches, beautiful (though somewhat stinky) yellowish clusters of flowers, and bright-red, very sour berries. The berries have been used to make jam, jellies, cakes, and wine and taste a little like cranberries (although more sour and less bitter).
Some athletes have begun experimenting with barberry to help reduce swelling after an intense training session or after injury. But it’s more often used to help relieve digestive complaints, such as constipation and heartburn, and to help stimulate appetite. It may also be used to stimulate the immune system and fight off infections.
No deficiency conditions are known to exist.
Research indicates that Barberry may be useful in the treatment of:
The fruit and bark of this medicinal herb have been used for centuries to relieve a wide variety of complaints — from constipation to heartburn to urinary tract infections and even fevers. But, while the potential for relief of these of complications exists, studies have not yet supported these claims. Nonetheless, because barberry is full of some important nutrients, logic would indicate it might have some potential benefits.
Barberry is a good source of Vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant that’s been shown to help support strong connective tissue, relieve colds, speed healing and recovery after intense workouts, and reduce inflammation and pain, just to name a few. In fact, research has suggested barberry is useful for relieving symptoms of colds and flus.
Berberine is believed to have a number of beneficial effects, including inhibiting harmful bacteria and other microorganisms, preventing infection, enhancing the immune system, lowering fevers, and fighting inflammation. It should be noted, however, that one study indicated that whole barberry extract was more effective for reducing inflammation than straight berberine was.
Barberry has been compared to goldenseal and goldthread and mistakenly referred to as Oregon grape (a similar herb) because they appear to share many of the same benefits. This is because all of these herbs contain berberine and some other potentially beneficial alkaloids, such as “berbamine,” which has been shown in research to help reduce inflammation and fight free radicals.
These herbs have been used (often interchangeably) in clinical settings to relieve diarrhea, eye infections, liver disorders, and even gonorrhea and syphilis. However, these herbs are often recognized mostly for their potential blood-cleansing and detoxifying activities and as such may be helpful for treating several liver ailments, such as jaundice and hepatitis.
Because of its acid content, barberry is believed to be a mild diuretic. That is, it may help flush extra water out of the body. It’s also been used traditionally as a “bitter” to help digestion. And because of its potential antibacterial abilities, barberry has been used to help treat yeast infections.
Current herbal literature also recommends barberry to help lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate and respiration, sedate, relieve menstrual irregularities, and as a topical germ killer.
Most notably, barberry has a long history of being helpful for the digestive system, helping the body digest food and absorb nutrients. And it’s been shown to be quite effective for relieving diarrhea, including traveler’s diarrhea, food poisoning, and giardia, as well as treating a number of common gastrointestinal infections.
Barberry is less of a “performance” herb and more one to consider when fighting off infections or inflammation. Anytime a little help is needed for digestive ailments, barberry or one of the other berberine-containing herbs may offer the relief you’re seeking.
When used for digestive complaints and infections, 2 to 3 ml of the tincture taken 15 to 20 minutes before a meal, 3 times a day, is typical. (Standardized extracts containing 5% to 10% of the alkaloids, for around 500 mg of berberine per day, are reportedly preferable.)
Tea can be made by adding half a cup of water to 1 to 2 teaspoons of whole or squashed barberries, heating for 10 to 15 minutes, and then straining. Up to four cups per day are recommended by some experts.
Ointments, found at some health-food stores, are reportedly used three times daily to help relieve skin ailments. (The ointments that contain 10% barberry extract are preferable.)
Twenty to 40 drops of a barberry tincture used once a day may be effective.
If supplementing to help avoid traveler’s diarrhea, starting supplementation one week before, continuing throughout the trip, and using for one week after is reportedly effective.
For digestive conditions, barberry is regularly used with gentian or other bitter herbs as a tincture.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, barberry is not recommended.
Strong extracts can sometimes lead to a tummy ache and should not be used for more than two weeks at a time.
Avoid if using Tetracycline medication.
An overdose may cause a light stupor, nosebleeds, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or kidney irritation.