Information about the herb Barberry

Berberis vulgaris, also known as Holy Thorn is part of the Berberis vulgaris plant family. Found in England, Scotland, Ireland Europe, Northern Africa and the temperate parts of Asia.

General Information

Other varieties include Nepalese Barberry (Berberis aristata), Indian Barberry (Berberis asiatica), Mountain Grape Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium).

Botanical Name: Berberis vulgaris

Common Name: Berbery, European Barberry, Holy Thorn, Jaundice Berry, Pepperidge Bush, Sowberry 

Plant Family: Berberidaceae

History: Berberis is the Arabic name of the fruit meaning ‘a shell’.

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Plant Constituents of Barberry


The stem, root bark, and fruit of barberry contain chemicals called isoquinoline alkaloids (berberine is a type of isoquinoline alkaloid), which are the main active ingredients of barberry.

Laboratory studies suggest that these substances have antimicrobial (for example, antibacterial and antiparasitic), anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulant, fever reducing, hypotensive (causing a reduction in blood pressure), sedative, anticonvulsant, and smooth muscle effects. Smooth muscles line the gastrointestinal tract; therefore, this last effect may help improve digestion and reduce stomach pain. Barberry extracts are standardized to contain 8% to 12% isoquinoline alkaloids.

  • albumin
  • Berbamine
  • Berberine, a yellow, crystalline bitter alkaloid
  • fat
  • gum
  • other alkaloidal matter
  • Oxyacanthine
  • resin
  • tannin
  • wax
  • starch


  • citric acid
  • malic acid


Barberry (as a single herb) should not be taken for more than five to seven days, but it may be used for longer periods if taken in combination with other herbs recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. Three to five days is generally sufficient for an upset stomach.

For sore throats, bladder infections, diarrhea, bronchitis, or yeast infections:

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

It is important to remember that some infections can be very dangerous if not treated with standard antibiotics. Barberry should not be taken in place of a prescription antibiotic.


  • antiseptic [an agent for inhibiting the growth of microorganism on living tissue or destroying pathogenic or putrefactive bacteria]
  • bitter stomachic tonic [applied to bitter tasting drugs which act on the mucous membranes of the mouth and stomach to increase appetite and promote digestion]
  • febrifuge [an agent that reduces or eliminates fevers]
  • hepatic [a drug that acts on the liver]
  • laxative [an agent promoting evacuation of the bowels; a mild purgative]
  • purgative [an agent that produces a vigorous emptying of the bowels, more drastic than a laxative or aperient]
  • tonic [an agent that tones, strengthens and invigorates organs or the entire organism giving a feeling of well-being]  

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Usage of Barberry

Medicinal use of Barberry dates back as far as ancient Egypt, when pharaohs and queens took it with Fennel seed to ward off the plague. In Egypt it is still used for fevers associated with pestilence.

Culpepper states, ‘Mars owns the shrub’.

In Italy Barberry is called Holy Thorn as legend states that it was used in Jesus’s Crown of Thorns 

Medicinal Part used: Bark, root-bark, berries

Barberries are sourer but less bitter than cranberries. Both the berries and the bark are used for medicinal purposes.

Barberry is commomly used for:

Barberry and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) have very similar therapeutic uses because both herbs contain active substances called berberine alkaloids. These substances have been shown to combat infection and bacteria, stimulate the activity of the immune system, and lower fever.

Infection and Skin disorders

For this reason, barberry is used to ease inflammation and infection of the urinary, gastrointestinal, and respiratory tracts (such as pharyngitis [sore throat], sinusitis, rhinitis [nasal congestion], bronchitis and, traditionally, tuberculosis) as well as candida (yeast) infections of the skin or vagina. Barberry extract may also improve symptoms of certain skin conditions including psoriasis, but further studies are 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 but may be less effective than the drugs in clearing bacterial organisms out of 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 for this condition.

Use barberry to reduce diarrhea in children. For this reason, barberry should be used with caution in children and only under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.

Brain and Nervous System Conditions

  • produces a sense of well-being
  • promotes vigor

Cardiovascular Conditions

  • dilates blood vessels
  • high blood pressure

Gastrointestinal Conditions

  • constipation (larger doses)
  • diarrhea
  • dyspepsia
  • heartburn
  • improves appetite
  • regulates digestion
  • relieves upset stomach

Inflammatory Conditions


  • inflammatory fevers, like typhoid

Liver Conditions

  • biliary disorders
  • biliousness
  • functional derangement of the liver
  • gallbladder disease
  • jaundice
  • liver complaints
  • secretes bile

Respiratory Tract Conditions

It is used as a gargle for:

  • mouth and throat irritation
  • relieving pyorrhea
  • sore throat
  • strengthening the gums

Other Conditions

  • debility in general
  • intermittent fevers
  • reduces fever
  • spleen problems


  • scurvy

Externally Barberry as been used as a lotion/ointment for:

  • cutaneous eruptions

Other Uses:

  • jelly
  • pickles
  • the inner bark of the stems boiled with alum will dye linen yellow 
  • the ripe berries can be used to make jam
  • the roots boiled in lye will dye leather yellow


  • antiscorbutic [a source of Vitamin C for curing or preventing scurvy]
  • astringent [a binding agent that contracts organic tissue, reducing secretions or discharges of mucous and fluid from the body]
  • laxative [an agent promoting evacuation of the bowels; a mild purgative]
  • refrigerant [an agent that lowers abnormal body heat, relieves thirst and gives a feeling of coolness]


Recommended dosage is as follows:

  • g/day dried root
  • mL/day 1:2 fluid extract

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

Drug Interactions:

Do not use Barberry without first talking to your practitioner or healthcare provider if you taking any of the following medications:

  • None Known

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Global Herbal Supplies has Barberry available in the following forms: