Barberry Uses and Health Benefits

Barberry and bilberry, Berberis vulgaris, Vaccinium myrtillus. Handcolored copperplate engraving of a botanical illustration by J. Schaly from G. T. Wilhelm's Unterhaltungen aus der Naturgeschichte' (Encyclopedia of Natural History)
Florilegius/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Barberry has a long history of use as a folk remedy for digestive disorders, infection, indigestion, gallbladder disease and heartburn.

The active ingredients in barberry are thought to be the isoquinoline alkaloids, particularly berberine. These alkaloids are found in the root, rhizome and stem bark of the barberry plant. Other herbs that contain berberine are goldenseal (which has a higher concentration of berberine than barberry), the Chinese herb Coptis and Oregon grape.

Barberry is available in tea, tincture, capsule, dried herb, and tablet forms. Other names include Berberis vulgaris, mountain grape, Pepperidge, berberry, common grape

Uses for Barberry

1) Diarrhea
Research studies indicate that the alkaloid berberine may fight bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections.

Another alkaloid in barberry, called berberine, is believed to help fight infections by stimulating white blood cells called macrophages.

In alternative medicine, barberry is used mainly for bacterial diarrhea, traveler's diarrhea, intestinal parasitic infections and chronic candidiasis.

Barberry capsules are usually recommended, especially those standardized to contain 5 to 12% isoquinoline alkaloids.

2) Indigestion
When using barberry for indigestion, alternative practitioner s recommend a liquid form, such as a liquid extract or tea, because the bitter taste is thought to help its medicinal action. It's usually taken 15 to 20 minutes before a meal.

3) Liver and Gallbladder Conditions
Barberry is thought to promote the secretion and flow of bile and be a mild laxative. Although it's sometimes promoted as a herbal remedy for gallstones, it shouldn't be used for this condition unless under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.

4) Urinary Tract Infections
One study suggested that berberine may be active against Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Some sources say that the berry portion of barberry is more effective at combatting urinary tract infections than the root.


Barberry may cause diarrhea, especially in larger amounts. Barberry may lower blood pressure.

An overdose of barberry can result in nosebleeds, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion and kidney irritation. Symptoms of kidney problems are bloody urine, pain when urinating, low back or stomach pain, and fever. Seek medical attention immediately.

Barberry should not be used to replace conventional treatment. In particular, it shouldn't be used as a home remedy for urinary tract infections. If the bacteria aren't fully eradicated, the infection may spread to the kidneys, even though symptoms such as difficult or painful urination may disappear.

Pregnant women should not use barberry, because it may stimulate uterine contractions and cause miscarriage. The safety of barberry in nursing women (and children) is unknown so it should be avoided.

Berberine may alter the way prescription drugs are metabolized in the body, although there's limited information about specific interactions. For example, one study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology found that berberine elevated the amount of the drug cyclosporin A in kidney transplant patients.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. 

Using Barberry for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend barberry any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using barberry, make sure to consult your physician first.

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