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Table of Contents > Herbs > Barberry
Botanical Name:  Berberis vulgaris
Common Names:  Berberry
Plant Description
What's It Made Of?
Available Forms
How to Take It
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research


Medicinal use of barberry dates as far back as ancient Egypt, when pharaohs and queens took it with fennel seed to ward off the plague. In traditional folk medicine, barberry has been used 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) have very similar therapeutic uses because both herbs contain active substances called berberine alkaloids. These substances have been shown to combat infection and bacteria, stimulate the activity of the immune system, and lower fever.

Infection and Skin disorders
For this reason, barberry is used to ease inflammation and infection of the urinary, gastrointestinal, and respiratory tracts (such as pharyngitis [sore throat], sinusitis, rhinitis [nasal congestion], bronchitis and, traditionally, tuberculosis) as well as candida (yeast) infections of the skin or vagina. Barberry extract may also improve symptoms of certain skin conditions including psoriasis, but further studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Barberry may also 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 but may be less effective than the drugs in clearing bacterial organisms out of 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 for this condition.

Plant Description

Barberry is a shrub with gray, thorny branches that can grow to about nine feet in height. Bright yellow flowers bloom between the months of April and June and become dark, drooping bunches of red berries in the fall. The ripe berries can be used to make jam. Barberries are sourer but less bitter than cranberries. Both the berries and the bark are used for medicinal purposes.

What's It Made Of?

The stem, root bark, and fruit of barberry contain chemicals called isoquinoline alkaloids (berberine is a type of isoquinoline alkaloid), which are the main active ingredients of barberry. Laboratory studies suggest that these substances have antimicrobial (for example, antibacterial and antiparasitic), anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulant, fever reducing, hypotensive (causing a reduction in blood pressure), sedative, anticonvulsant, and smooth muscle effects. Smooth muscles line the gastrointestinal tract; therefore, this last effect may help improve digestion and reduce stomach pain.

Available Forms

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% isoquinoline alkaloids.

How to Take It


There are no known scientific reports on the pediatric use of barberry. However, many professional herbalists use barberry to reduce diarrhea in children. For this reason, barberry should be used with caution in children and only under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.


Barberry (as a single herb) should not be taken for more than five to seven days, but it may be used for longer periods if taken in combination with other herbs recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. Three to five days is generally sufficient for an upset stomach.

For sore throats, bladder infections, diarrhea, bronchitis, or yeast infections:

  • Tea: 2 to 4 grams of dried root steeped or 1 to 2 tsp of whole or crushed berries steeped in 150 mL (approximately 2/3 of a cup) of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes three times daily
  • Tincture: 3 to 6 mL (1/2 to 1 1/2 tsp three times daily)
  • Dry extracts: 250 to 500 milligrams three times daily
  • For skin disorders: 10% extract of barberry in ointment, applied to the skin three times daily

It is important to remember that some infections can be very dangerous if not treated with standard antibiotics. Barberry should not be taken in place of a prescription antibiotic.


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger side effects and that can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.

Those 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.

Pregnant women should not take barberry because it may cause uterine contractions and trigger miscarriage.

Possible Interactions

There are no known scientific reports of interactions between barberry and conventional medications.

Supporting Research

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) Accessed at April 22, 2002.

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.

Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C et al, eds. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 2nd ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company Inc; 2000:61-62.

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, Aikawa M. 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.

Rabbani GH, Butler T, Knight J, Sanyal SC, Alam K. 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.

Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD, Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David Winston, Herbalist (April 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ; Tom Wolfe, P.AHG (April 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

  Uses of this Herb
Food Poisoning
Gallbladder Disease
Urinary Tract Infection in Women
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