Medicinal use of barberry dates back more than 2,500 years. It has been used in Indian folk medicine to treat diarrhea, reduce fever, improve appetite, relieve upset stomach, and promote vigor, as well as a sense of well being. Today, it is widely used for medicinal purposes in Iran, including for biliary disorders (such as gallbladder disease) and heartburn.
Barberry and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) are often used for similar medicinal purposes because both herbs contain the chemical berberine. Berberine has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria in test tubes, and may help the immune system function better. The aqueous extract of barberry has beneficial effects on both the cardiovascular and neural system. As such, it may be useful in the treatment of hypertension, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), and some neuronal disorders, such as epilepsy and convulsions. Recent studies suggest that barberry also has antioxidant properties, and may help prevent certain types of cancer.
Infection and skin disorders
Barberry is used to ease inflammation and infection of the urinary (bladder and urinary tract infections), gastrointestinal, and respiratory tracts (sore throat, nasal congestion, sinusitis, bronchitis), as well as candida (yeast) infections of the skin or vagina. Barberry extract may also improve symptoms of certain skin conditions including psoriasis and acne. More research is needed to confirm these findings.
Barberry may 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, perhaps because it has astringent properties, but that antibiotics may be more effective at killing bacteria in 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. However, taking barberry with antibiotics may reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics. Talk to your doctor before combining the two.
Barberry is a shrub with gray, thorny branches that can grow to about 9 feet tall. Bright yellow flowers bloom between the months of April and June and become dark, drooping bunches of red berries in the fall. The root, bark, and berries are used for medicinal purposes.
What is It Made Of?
The stem, root bark, and fruit of barberry contain alkaloids, the most prominent of which is berberine. Laboratory studies in test tubes and animals suggest that berberine has antimicrobial (killing bacteria and parasites), anti-inflammatory, hypotensive (causing a lowering of blood pressure), sedative, and anticonvulsant effects. Berberine may also stimulate the immune system. It also acts on the smooth muscles that line the intestines. This last effect may help improve digestion and reduce gastrointestinal pain.
Barberry is available in capsules, fluid extracts, tinctures, and as a topical ointment. Dried roots of barberry can also be used in tea. Barberry extracts are standardized to contain 8 to 12% alkaloids (berberine).
How to Take It
There is not enough evidence to establish a dose for children. Certain dosages of barberry may be unsafe for children so onlly use barberry in children under the supervision of a qualified health care provider.
Dosages should be determined by your provider. Barberry should not be taken for long periods of time (more than a week) without the supervision of your doctor.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects, and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
People 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.
In infants, berberine (a constituent of barberry) may interfere with liver function and might worsen jaundice.
Pregnant women should not take barberry because it may cause uterine contractions and trigger miscarriage.
It is not known for certain what drugs, herbs, or supplements may interact with barberry. However, it is possible that barberry may interact with the following:
Antibiotics: Taking barberry with antibiotics may decrease the effectiveness of the antibiotics. Talk to your doctor about taking barberry in conjunction with antibiotic therapy.
Anticoagulants (blood thinners): Barberry may alter the effectiveness of blood-thinning medication. DO NOT take barberry if you take anticoagulants.
Antihistamines: Barberry may increase the effects of antihistamines.
Blood pressure medication: Barberry may increase the effects of these drugs. DO NOT take barberry if you take blood pressure medication.
Celecoxib (Celebrex): Barberry may interact with Celebrex. Talk to your doctor before combining the two.
Diuretics (water pills): Barberry may increase the effects of these drugs. Talk to your doctor before combing the two.
Medications for diabetes: Barberry may lower blood sugar, making the effects of these drugs stronger. DO NOT take barberry if you take medications for diabetes.
Other drugs metabolized by the liver: Because barberry works on the liver, it may alter the way many medications, which are metabolized by the liver, work in your body. Speak with your physician about potential interactions.
Abd El-Wahab AE, Ghareeb DA, Sarhan EE, Abu-Serie MM, El Demellawy MA. In vitro biological assessment of Berberis vulgaris and its active constituent, berberine: antioxidants, anti-acetylcholinesterase, anti-diabetic and anticancer effects. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013;13:218.
Arayne MS, Sultana N, Bahadur SS. The berberis story: Berberis vulgaris in therapeutics. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2007;20(1):83-92.
Berberine. Altern Med Rev. 2000;Apr;5(2):175-177.
Bergner P. Goldenseal and the common cold; goldenseal substitutes. Medical Herbalism: A Journal for the Clinical Practitioner. 1996-1997;8(4).
Fatehi M, Saleh TM, Fatehi-Hassanabad Z, Farrokhfal K, Jafarzadeh M, Davodi S. A pharmacological study on Berberis vulgaris fruit extract. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005;102(1):46-52.
Foster S, Tyler V. Tyler's Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Herbal Press; 1999:43-45.
Fouladi RF. Aqueous extract of dried fruit of Berberis vulgaris L. in acne vulgaris, a clinical trial. J Diet Suppl. 2012;9(4):253-61.
Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al, eds. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 2nd ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company Inc; 2000:61-62.
Imanshahidi M, Hosseinzadeh H. Pharmacological and therapeutic effects of Berberis vulgaris and its active constituent, berberine. Phytother Res. 2008;22(8):999-1012.
Ivanovska N, Philipov S. Study on the antiinflammatory action of Berberis vulgaris root extract, alkaloid fractions, and pure alkaloids. Int J Immunopharmacol. 1996;18:552-561.
Kaneda Y, Torii M, Tanaka T, et al. In vitro effects of berberine sulphate on the growth and structure of Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia lamblia and Trichomonas vaginalis. Ann Trop Med Parasitol. 1991 Aug;85(4):417-425.
Pierpaoli E, Arcamone AG, Buzzetti F, Lombardi P, Salvatore C, Provinciali M. Antitumor effect of novel berberine derivatives in breast cancer cells. Biofactors. 2013;39(6):672-9.
Rabbani GH, Butler T, Knight J, et al. Randomized controlled trial of berberine sulfate therapy for diarrhea due to enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli and Vibrio cholerae. J Infect Dis. 1987 May;155(5):979-984.
Shamsa F, Ahamadiani A, Khosrokhavar R. Antihisminic and anticholinergic activity of barberry fruit (Berberis vulgaris) in the guinea-pig ileum. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999;64:161-166.
Sun D, Courtney HS, Beachey EH. Berberine sulfate blocks adherence of Streptococcus pyogenes to epithelial cells, fibronectin, and hexadecane. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1988;32:1370-1374.
Tomosaka H. Antioxidant and cytoprotective compounds from Berberis vulgaris (barberry). Phytother Res. 2008;22(7):979-81.
Yesilada E, Kupeli E. Berberis crataegina DC. root exhibits potent anti-inflammatory, analgesic and febrifuge effects in mice and rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002 Feb;79(2):237-48.
Zhang CM, Gao L, Zheng YJ, Yang HT. Berbamine protects the heart from ischemia/reperfusion injury by maintaining cytosolic Ca(2+) homeostasis and preventing calpain activation. Circ J. 2012;76(8):1993-2002.
Zilaee M, Kermany T, Tavalaee S, Salehi M, Ghayour-Mobarhan M, Ferns GA. Barberry treatment reduces serum anti-heat shock protein 27 and 60 antibody titres and high-sensitivity c-reactive protein in patients with metabolic syndrome: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2014;28(8):1211-5.