Botanical: Berberis vulgaris
Family: Berberidaceae (barberry/barley)
Other common names: Jaundice Berry, Berberidis, Rocky Mountain Grape, Holy Thorn, Pipperidge (and Pepperidge) Bush, Sowberry, Berberry, Wild Oregon Grape
Barberry Root has a long history of treating liver dysfunction and promoting bile flow. The herb was almost always used in the past as a remedy for jaundice. Barberry is also considered one of the most effective herbs when used to combat bacterial infections and relieve digestive disorders.
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Barberry is a bushy, highly ornamental shrub that is both evergreen and deciduous and found over the greater part of Europe, North Africa, Asia and North and South America. It is said that insects are exceedingly fond of it; cows, sheep, and goats will eat it; but horses and swine refuse it. Barberry is generally not planted in the United States, and is not popular with farmers, because it is said to contain a destructive wheat-rust fungus that will infect surrounding crops. Its long history goes back to ancient Egypt, where it was used with Fennel to prevent plague, and modern Egyptians still employ a juice of the berries to remedy pestilential fevers. Berberis is the Arabic name of the fruit (signifying a shell), and many believe the name is derived from this word, because the leaves are glossy like the inside of a shell. Others claim that it is derived from the Phoenician barbar, meaning "glossy." Italians called the plant Holy Thorn, because it is thought to have formed part of the crown of thorns made for Jesus Christ. Native Americans used the herb to improve liver function and also as a dye for baskets and cloth. The fruits have been included in refreshing jellies and condiments, and the bark, stems and roots have been used as a wool and leather dye. Most of the plant, including the root, is used for medicinal purposes. There are many species of the plant throughout the world with similar properties, and they are used medicinally for a variety of ailments. The most important constituents in Barberry are the alkaloids, berberine and berbamine, which account for most of its beneficial properties. Other constituents include wax, tannin, resin, albumin, gum, acids, fat, starch, minerals, beta-carotene, B-vitamins and vitamin C.
It is thought that liver function is greatly helped with Barberry. Its berberine content, a bitter alkaloid, stimulates the secretion and improves bile flow, which eases liver congestion; and in times past, it was always used to curb jaundice and biliousness. Barberry is also thought to be effective in treating inflamed gallbladder and gallstones that are often associated with excess dietary fats.
As a bitter, digestive aid and stomachic tonic, Barberry Root helps to regulate the digestive process. The berberine in the root bark kills helicobacter pylori, a bacterium implicated in both ulcers and chronic gastritis, and Barberry has also been considered an excellent remedy for dyspepsia.
Barberry is antiseptic, antibacterial and herbal anti-inflammatory and is said to be extremely effective for fighting bacterial infection. The berberine content inhibits bacteria from attaching to human cells and helps to prevent infection. Laboratory tests have also claimed that berberine has been effective against some bacteria that have become antibiotic-resistant. The other alkaloid in Barberry, berbamine, helps to reduce inflammation and has been found to be useful in treating amoebic hepatitis and rheumatoid arthritis. It has also shown activity against staph (Staphylococcus), strep (Streptococcus), salmonella, shigella and E-coli (Escherichia coli). Barberry's antimicrobial properties also benefit the intestinal tract. In the Far East, berberine plants were specifically used to treat bacillary dysentery and diarrhea.
As a topical antiseptic, Barberry Root has been used to kill bacteria on the skin and has reduced the incidence of infection in first- and second-degree burns. A tea made with Barberry has been used as an eyewash for inflamed lids and conjunctivitis. It is also used as an effective gargle for sore mouth and a lotion for skin eruptions, sores, acne and itch.
Barberry Root may be helpful in reducing blood pressure by dilating blood vessels. It is also said that the herb may decrease the heart rate and slow one's breathing.
Barberry is considered to be a refrigerant that has been used as a remedy for intermittent fevers and has a cooling effect on the body.
It is believed that Barberry Root is an excellent hangover remedy. It stimulates the liver into action and helps eradicate the tension headache that often accompanies a hangover by expanding the blood vessels that have been constricted by alcohol and thereby increasing blood circulation.
Barberry Root is regarded as a mild purgative and helpful to those with constipation. It is thought to stimulate intestinal movement and to be effective in loosening obstructions in the intestinal tract. Barberry is also said to strengthen and cleanse the system.
The berberine content in Barberry Root is also thought to reduce bronchial constriction.
Berberine (found in Barberry Herbal Supplement, Goldenseal, Oregon Grape and the roots and bark of a number of plants) is now the focus of attention for use in diabetic care. In a report from Medical News Today (Diabetes News/August, 2006), a collaboration of Chinese, Korean and Australian scientists at Sydney's Garvan Institute revealed that berberine could be a valuable new treatment for this disease, giving scientific backing for its glucose lowering effects that were documented in Chinese literature (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Garvan scientist, Dr. Jiming Ye claimed that in lab tests, the berberine activates an enzyme in the muscle and liver that is involved in improving sensitivity of the tissue to insulin, which, in turn, helps lower blood sugar levels. Moreover, the berberine might help to reduce body weight. Professor James, the head of Garvan's Diabetes and Obesity Research Program added that despite berberine's widespread use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it would have to be evaluated following the defined clinical trials process.
Berberine-containing plants, including Barberry Root Herbal Supplement (or Goldenseal or Oregon Grape) should not be used by pregnant or nursing women. Those who suffer from hyperthyroid conditions should not take Barberry. Vitamin B-6 can interfere with Barberry's antibiotic activity and should not be taken during the regimen. High doses (many times the recommended amount) may cause depression, vomiting, lowered blood pressure and lowered heart rate, lethargy, nosebleed, skin and eye irritation and kidney irritation. It is recommended that Barberry be taken for approximately two weeks with a break before beginning regimen again (two weeks).