Thursday, December 3, 2009

Medicinal Herbs: Barberry



Medicinal use of barberry dates back more than 2,500 years, and it has been used in Indian folk medicine to treat diarrhea, reduce fever, improve appetite, relieve upset stomach, and promote vigor as well as a sense of well-being. Today, it is widely used for medicinal purposes in Iran, including for biliary disorders (such as gallbladder disease) and heartburn.

Barberry and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) are often used for similar medicinal purposes because both herbs contain the chemical berberine. Berberine has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria in test tubes, and also may help the immune system function better. The aqueous extract of barberry has beneficial effects on both the cardiovascular and neural system. As such, it may be useful in the treatment of hypertension, tachycardia (rapid heart beat), and some neuronal disorders, such as epilepsy and convulsions.

Infection and skin disorders

Barberry is used to ease inflammation and infection of the urinary (bladder and urinary tract infections), gastrointestinal, and respiratory tracts (sore throat, nasal congestion, sinusitis, bronchitis) as well as candida (yeast) infections of the skin or vagina. Barberry extract may also improve symptoms of certain skin conditions including psoriasis, but more research is needed to confirm these findings.


Barberry may also be an effective treatment for diarrhea (including traveler's diarrhea and diarrhea caused by food poisoning). A few studies have suggested that barberry improves symptoms faster than antibiotics, perhaps because it has astringent properties, but that antibiotics may be more effective at killing bacteria in the intestines. Because of the serious consequences associated with bacterial diarrhea, if barberry is used to ease symptoms, it is best to take the herb along with standard antibiotic therapy.

Plant Description

Barberry is a shrub with gray, thorny branches that can grow to about 9 feet tall. Bright yellow flowers bloom between the months of April and June and become dark, drooping bunches of red berries in the fall. The root, bark, and berries are used for medicinal purposes.

What's It Made Of?

The stem, root bark, and fruit of barberry contain alkaloids, the most prominent of which is berberine. Laboratory studies in test tubes and animals suggest that berberine has antimicrobial (killing bacteria and parasites), anti-inflammatory, hypotensive (causing a lowering of blood pressure), sedative, and anticonvulsant effects. Berberine may also stimulate the immune system. It also acts on the smooth muscles that line the intestines. This last effect may help improve digestion and reduce gastrointestinal pain.

Available Forms

Barberry is available in capsules, fluid extracts, tinctures, and as a topical ointment. Dried roots of barberry can also be used in tea. Barberry extracts are standardized to contain 8 - 12% alkaloids (berberine).

How to Take It


There is not enough evidence to establish a dose for children. For this reason, barberry should be used in children only under the supervision of a qualified health care provider.


  • Tea: 2 - 4 grams of dried root steeped or 1 - 2 tsp of whole or crushed berries steeped in 150 mL (approximately 2/3 of a cup) of boiling water for 10 - 15 minutes 3 times daily
  • Tincture: 3 - 6 mL (1/2 to 1 1/2 tsp 3 times daily)
  • Dry extracts: 250 - 500 milligrams 3 times daily
  • For skin disorders: 10% extract of barberry in ointment, applied to the skin 3 times daily

Barberry should not be taken for long periods of time (more than a week) without the supervision of your doctor.


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.

People using normal and appropriate doses of barberry do not generally report side effects. Cases of nosebleeds and vomiting have been reported with extremely high doses of this herb.

In infants, berberine (a constituent of barberry) may interfere with liver function and might worsen jaundice.

Pregnant women should not take barberry because it may cause uterine contractions and trigger miscarriage.

Possible Interactions

It is not known for certain what drugs, herbs, or supplements may intereact with barberry. However, it is possible that barberry may interact with the following:

Antibiotics -- Taking barberry with antibiotics may decrease the effectiveness of the antibiotics. Talk to your doctor before combining the two.

Anticoagulants (blood thinners) -- Barberry may decrease the effectiveness of blood-thinning medication. Do not take barberry if you take anticoagulants.

Antihistamines -- Barberry may increase the effects of antihistamines.

Blood pressure medication -- Barberry may increase the effects of these drugs. Do not take barberry if you take blood pressure medication.

Celecoxib (Celebrex) -- Barberry may interact with Celebrex. Talk to your doctor before combining the two.

Diuretics (water pills) -- Barberry may increase the effects of these drugs. Talk to your doctor before combing the two.

Medications for diabetes -- Barberry may lower blood sugar, making the effects of these drugs stronger. Do not take barberry if you take medications for diabetes.

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