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Herbs & Supplements «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. Nevertheless, the berries appear to be effective for boosting the immune system and combating urinary tract infections, while the root seems to serve as a remedy 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, including diarrhea, enlarged spleen, tuberculosis, hemorrhoids, kidney disease, gout, arthritis, low back pain, malaria and parasite infections, and has been use internally to treat skin conditions. However, its effectiveness as a remedy for all these conditions has not been proven, and its use is not recommended for treating these conditions.

Barberry has been used as a remedy for:

  • Chronic candidiasis
  • Liver and gallbladder problems
  • Tendency to infection (inhibits bacteria from attaching to human cells, which helps prevent infection)
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Diarrhea caused by bacteria
  • Indigestion
  • Parasites
  • Psoriasis (using a topical application)
  • Vaginitis
If you have been taking antibiotics frequently because you get the same infections over and over again, your health care provider may discuss herbal alternatives to prescription drugs. There are many reasons for this. Barberry may help you feel better and give you a break from other treatments. Also, resistance to antibiotics is rising. In order to avoid this, many providers are looking into other ways to treat illnesses. Another reason to consider using barberry is that your body changes in response to antibiotics, and these changes are not always good. The normal bacteria that we all have inside us, which actually helps us to fight against infection, can get wiped out with regular antibiotics.

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.