People walking in mountainous, dry places find the barberry plant, a shrub, somewhat hostile in appearance because of its spiked thorns; however, it is an enjoyable experience thanks to its exquisite fruit. Until mid-fall, walkers can enjoy this refreshing, natural gift. I have eaten plenty of berberries myself. Even though due to their size, barberries would have never been expected to be so pleasant, they have an excellent flavor, somewhere between sweet and sour. Many birds and animals make an appreciated dessert dish of them.
Barberry Plant Scientific Facts
- Other names: European barberry, jaundice berry, pepperidge, pepperidge bush, sowberry.
- French: Epine-vinette.
- Spanish: Agracejo.
- Environment: Warm, mountainous regions in Europe and America, mainly dry, rocky soils.
- Description: Thorny shrub of the Berberidaceae family, whose species present groups of three or five thorns on each knot. Yellow flowers and oval, little, red or purple berries growing in clusters. The bark of the trunk and of the root is yellowish, and it has been used to dye wool and other fabrics.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The bark of the root and the berries.
Healing Properties and Warning
The entire plant except the berries contains very active alkaloids, which can be poisonous. The most outstanding among them is berberine, chemically similar to morphine and, according to Font Quer, suitable for de-habituating in treating morphine addiction.
The root’s bark of the barberry is the part of the plant with a higher content in berberine. It has the following properties:
- Cholagogue and digestive. By promoting the emptying of bile, it reduces the congestion of the liver and the bile system, thus reducing a bloated stomach. It acts as a digestive tonic, increasing appetite.
- Laxative. It eases constipation when the latter is caused by insufficient bile secretion.
- Heart and circulatory invigorating. It has been traditionally used as a stimulant substance for exhaustion or febrile diseases.
- Diuretic and febrifuge, although with mild effects.
Its fruits (berries) contain glucose and levulose, vitamin C, and citric and malic acids. Both fresh, in the form of juice or syrup, barberries are effective in refreshing and thirst-quenching. They have a mild laxative effect. Barberry juice and syrup are ideal for quenching people’s thirst with fever since it decreases their temperature, invigorate and stimulate them.
Barberries should be gathered in the late summer or fall. They can be used freely, as they contain no alkaloids.
WARNING! Due to its content in berberine, an alkaloid similar to morphine, the root’s bark of the barberry plant must be carefully used, never exceeding the prescribed doses.
How to use Barberry
- Infusion or decoction with 40 g of root’s bark per liter of water. The maximum dose is three cups daily.
- Syrup, made with mashed fruits, then straining and adding twice its weight of sugar to avoid fermentation. The syrup obtained can be used to create a quenching drink all year round.
- Jelly. Barberries are also used to prepare delicious jellies.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. Vols. 1 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 384, 385. Print. [barberry plant]