Barberry History, Facts and Nutritional Information

Barberry History, Facts and Nutritional Information

The root, stem and bark of the barberry plant are used in a variety of herbal and medicinal preparations. A closely related species, Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), is native to North America. Barberry's medicinal value has not been officially recognized. It is considered obsolete as a drug, and its use is discouraged. The berries appear to be effective for supporting the immune system and for urinary tract infections. The root seems to provide nutrients for indigestion and problems with the liver and gallbladder. Barberry is also considered a strong antioxidant.

Barberry has also been used in connection with a variety of other conditions. However, its effectiveness as a remedy for all these conditions has not been proven.

Dosage and Administration

As a tincture, 2-3 ml of barberry can be taken three times per day. Standardized extracts containing 5-10 alkaloids, with a total of approximately 500 mg of berberine taken each day, are preferable for preventing infections. Standardized extracts of goldenseal are a more common source of berberine, since goldenseal contains a higher concentration of berberine than barberry. A tea/infusion can be prepared using 2 grams of the herb in a cup of boiling water. This can be repeated two to three times daily.

Possible Side Effects

Berberine-containing plants, including barberry, goldenseal, and Oregon grape should be used with caution during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Strong standardized extracts may cause stomach upset and should be used for no more than two weeks continuously. Other symptoms of excessive berberine intake include lethargy, nose bleed, skin and eye irritation, and kidney irritation.

Supporting Literature

Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 78.
Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al. (eds). PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998, 688-90.
Sun D, Courtney HS, Beachey EH. Berberine sulfate blocks adherence of Streptococcus pyogenes to epithelial cells, fibronectin, and hexadecane. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 1988;32:1370-4.