Berberis vulgaris

Family: Berberidaceae
Genus:  Berberis
Species: vulgaris


Synonyms and Common names:

Berberidis cortex, Berberis dumetorum, European barberry, common barberry, berbery, jaundice berry, pepperidge, pepperidge bush, pipperidge bush, sowberry

Description and Habitat:

Barberry is a shrub with erect branches and yellowish, spiny, ridged twigs with groups of three spines along their length. The leaves are oval and finely toothed. The drooping flowers are bright yellow and arranged up the stem, where the lowest flowers open first and then the others in sequence towards the tip of the stem. These flowers later develop into cylindrical clusters of deep red berries, which are very sour to taste but are rich in Vitamin C.

Barberry is found in copses and hedges in some parts of England, though a doubtful native in Scotland and Ireland. It is generally distributed over the greater part of Europe, Northern Africa, and temperate Asia. As an ornamental shrub, it is fairly common in gardens

Barberries prefer sun or partial shade; woodland, dappled, shady hedges are best, and are tolerant of dry conditions, but will happily tolerate dry, medium or heavy soil. The temperate zone provides the best growing temperature, with a moderate amount of water required for its proper growth. Barberries need little fertilizer while planted in pots but do need protection from frost whilst in the pot. Fertilizer is not required when it is grown in the earth. To give it a good shape pruning is required. This is best done immediately after flowering or in later winter

The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile. It is noted for attracting wildlife. The plant sends out suckers from its roots, which can travel quickly to surrounding areas.

Parts used: Bark of root or stem.

Collection and preparation:

The bark is collected by shaving either in November or in March and is dried spread out in trays in shade.


The chief constituent of Barberry bark is Berberine, a yellow crystalline, bitter alkaloid. Other constituents are oxyacanthine, berbamine, other alkaloidal matter, a little tannin, also wax, resin, fat, albumin, gum, and starch.


Antibacterial; Antipruritic; Antirheumatic; Antiseptic; Appetizer; Astringent; Cancer; Cholagogue; Diaphoretic; Diuretic; Expectorant; Hepatic; Laxative; Ophthalmic; Purgative; Refrigerant; Stomachic; Tonic.

Indications and Therapeutics:

Barberry is one of the best remedies for correcting liver function and promoting the flow of bile. It is indicated when there is inflammation of the gall-bladder or in the presence of gallstones. Barberry is also indicated when jaundice occurs due to a congested state of the liver. As a bitter tonic with mild laxative effects, it is used with weak or debilitated people to strengthen and cleanse the system. An interesting action is its ability to reduce an enlarged spleen.

As a bitter tonic with mild laxative effects, it is used with weak or debilitated people to strengthen and cleanse the system and is a useful herb in combating cholera. It makes a useful compress for inflammatory eye conditions such as conjunctivitis, and may also be used to treat dysmenorrhoea and labor pains.


Avoid during pregnancy as the alkaloid berberine is a uterine stimulant. Excessive doses should be avoided

Preparation and dosage:
Decoction: put l teaspoonful of the bark into a cup of cold water and bring to the boil. Leave for l0-l5 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.
Tincture: take 1-2ml of the tincture three times a day.

Folklore and additional comments:

The Italians call the barberry Holy Thorn because it is thought to have formed part of the Crown of Thorns. Berberis is the Arabic name of the fruit, signifying a shell, and many authors believe the name is derived from this word, because the leaves are glossy, like the inside of an oyster-shell. The berries were pickled in the past and had various culinary uses, and in the Far East, berberine-containing plants are specifically used for bacillary dysentery and diarrhea. Barberry became unpopular with farmers when it was discovered to be a host plant for the ‘wheat rust’ fungus that decimated crops in the 19th century.

The roots boiled will dye wool yellow, and in Poland leather is dyed a beautiful yellow colour with the bark of the root. The inner bark of the stems will also dye linen of a fine yellow, with the assistance of alum.

Provincially, the plant is also termed Pipperidge Bush, from 'pepon,' a pip, and 'rouge,' red, as descriptive of the scarlet, juiceless fruit.

The unripe fruit is dried and used as beads, the wood is fine-grained and yellow. It’s also used for carving, toothpicks, mosaics, etc and can be used as a fuel.

Barberry had a magical use, it was used to ward off evil and protect the house and those living within it from enemies. People would laid Barberry branches across the path of their enemies to literally "bar" their progress.