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What is barberry?
Originally used in Egypt thousands of years ago, barberry
is now popular in Europe and North America. It can grow as
tall as nine feet and contains gray, thorny branches. Its
leaves come in a variety of colors and have spiny teeth. The
plants flowers bloom between April and June, turning
into dark red berries that grow in bunches.
Why do we need barberry? What is
it used for?
Nearly every part of barberry (roots, berries, root bark
and stem bark) is used for medicinal purposes. The berries
and are occasionally used as a tonic in tea to stimulate the
appetite, while the root is sometimes used as a dye. The root
and stem bark, meanwhile, contain chemicals called isoquinoline
alkaloids, which have various antibiotic properties. Some
of them lower fever; others reduce swelling, lower blood pressure,
and help stabilize heart rate.
Barberry may also be used externally to treat arthritis,
psoriasis and other skin disorders.
How much barberry should I take?
The amount of barberry taken depends on the condition for
which it is being used. For sore throats, bladder infections,
diarrhea, bronchitis or yeast infections, the following doses
- Tea: 2-4 grams steeped, dried root three times daily
- Tincture (a 1:5 solution made from barberry, alcohol and
water): 3-6 milliliters three times daily
- Extracts: 250-500 milligrams three times daily
For arthritis and skin disorders, apply an ointment containing
10% barberry extract three times a day.
Most health practitioners recommend that you do not take
barberry for more than 5-7 days in a row. If you have a sensitive
stomach, you should limit it to 3-5 days.
What forms of barberry are available?
Barberry can be found in many forms: as a tea; powdered in
capsules; in fluid extracts and alcohol-based tinctures; and
as a topical ointment. If using an extract, make sure that
it is standardized to between 8-12% isoquinoline alkaloid
What can happen if I take too much
barberry? Are there any interactions I should be aware of?
What precautions should I take?
Barberry is safe when taken as directed. However, taking
large doses for an extended period of time may irritate your
stomach and make it difficult for the body to absorb B vitamins.
Excessive doses can cause lethargy, nose bleeds, nausea and
diarrhea, among other symptoms.
The American Herbal Products Association has given barberry
a safety rating of 2B. It should not be used by pregnant women.
Other Resources :
More You Know About Nutrition
- Harborn, J, Baxter H. Phytochemical
Dictionary: A Handbook of Bioactive Compounds from Plants.
Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis; 1993.
- Ivanovska N, Philipov S. Study on the antiinflammatory
action of berberis vulgaris root extract, alkaloid
fractions, and pure alkaloids. Int J Immunopharmacol
- Kowalchik C, Hylton W (eds.) Rodale's
Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale
- McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg
A. American Herbal Products Associations's Botanical
Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1996.
- Shamsa F, et al. Antihistaminic and anticholinergic
activity of barberry fruit (berberis vulgaris) in
the guinea-pig ileum. J Ethnopharmacol 1999;64:161166.