Barberry is a bush that grows wild in Europe and North America. It is closely related to
Berberis aquifolium). The root, stem, bark, and fruit of barberry are all used medicinally. Barberry was traditionally used as a treatment for digestive problems, including constipation, diarrhea, dyspepsia (stomach upset), heartburn, and loss of appetite. It was said to work by increasing the flow of bile, and on this basis it has also been used for liver and gallbladder problems. Topical preparations of barberry have been recommended for the treatment of eczema, psoriasis, and minor wounds.
There are no medically established uses of barberry. Only
double-blind placebo-controlled studies, can establish a treatment effective, and none have been performed on barberry. (For information on why this type of study is essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-Blind Studies?)
Very weak evidence (too weak to be relied upon at all) hints that barberry root extracts may have anti-inflammatory, fever-reducing, and analgesic (pain-reducing) effects.1,2
Similarly weak evidence hints that barberry fruit may have antihypertensive and antihistaminic effects.3,4
Oregon grape, contains the chemical berberine. There has been some studies of purified berberine that might apply to barberry, as well. Berberine inhibits the growth of many microorganisms, including fungi, protozoa, and bacteria.5-11,22 In one placebo-controlled study, berberine effectively reduced lung injury among lung cancer patients receiving radiation therapy.23
On this basis, berberine has been proposed as a topical antiseptic for use in
vaginal infections. Berberine has also shown potential as a treatment for various heart-related conditions, including reducing high cholesterol
high blood pressure
However, it is not clear that barberry provides enough berberine to produce any of these potential benefits.
Topical formulations of the related plant
have shown some promise for
and barberry has been marketed for this condition as well. However, there is no direct evidence that it works.
Barberry is traditionally used at a dose of 2 grams three times daily, or an equivalent amount in extract form. For treatment of
and other skin conditions, barberry is used in the form of a 10% cream, applied to the skin three times daily.
One study suggests that topical use of berberine could cause photosensitivity (an increased tendency to react to sun exposure.18 Berberine-containing herbs should not be used by pregnant women because berberine may increase levels of bilirubin,19 potentially damaging the fetus, and might also cause genetic damage.20
Individuals who already have elevated levels of bilirubin (jaundice), or any other form of liver disease, should also avoid berberine-containing herbs.
Safety in young children and nursing women has not been established.
One study hints that berberine may decrease the efficacy of the drug tetracycline.21
If you are using antibiotics in the
family, barberry might decrease their effectiveness.
Kupeli E, Kosar M, Yesilada E, et al. A comparative study on the anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive and antipyretic effects of isoquinoline alkaloids from the roots of Turkish
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Yesilada E, Kupeli E.
DC root exhibits potent anti-inflammatory, analgesic and febrifuge effects in mice and rats.
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Shamsa F, Ahmadiani A, Khosrokhavar R. Antihistaminic and anticholinergic activity of barberry fruit (
Berberisvulgaris) in the guinea-pig ileum.
J Ethnopharmacol. 1999;64:161–6.
Fatehi-Hassanabad Z, Jafarzadeh M, Tarhini A, et al. The antihypertensive and vasodilator effects of aqueous extract from
fruit on hypertensive rats.
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Kaneda Y. In vitro effects of berberine sulphate on the growth and structure of
Ann Trop Med Parasitol. 1991;85:417–425.
Scazzocchio F, Cometa MF, Tomassini L, et al. Antibacterial activity of
extract and its major isolated alkaloids.
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Soffar SA, Metwali DM, Abdel-Aziz SS, et al. Evaluation of the effect of a plant alkaloid (berberine derived from
Berberis aristata) on
J Egypt Soc Parasitol. 2001;31:893–904.
Stermitz FR, Lorenz P, Tawara JN, et al. Synergy in a medicinal plant: antimicrobial action of berberine potentiated by 5'-methoxyhydnocarpin, a multidrug pump inhibitor.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000; 97:1433–1437.
Lesnau A, Hils J, Pohl G, et al. Antiviral activity of berberine salts.
Doggrell SA. Berberine–a novel approach to cholesterol lowering.
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Lau CW, Yao XQ, Chen ZY, et al. Cardiovascular actions of berberine.
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Kong W, Wei J, Abidi P, et al. Berberine is a novel cholesterol-lowering drug working through a unique mechanism distinct from statins.
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in patients with psoriasis vulgaris—an intraindividual study.
Gieler U, von der Weth A, Heger M.
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J Dermatol Treat. 1995;6:31–34.
Augustin M, Andrees U, Grimme H, et al. Effects of
ointment on the expression of adhesion, proliferation, and activation markers in the skin of patients with psoriasis.
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Inbaraj JJ, Kukielczak BM, Bilski P, et al. Photochemistry and photocytotoxicity of alkaloids from goldenseal (
L.) 1. Berberine.
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Chan E. Displacement of bilirubin from albumin by berberine.
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Pasqual MS, Lauer CP, Moyna P, Henriques JA. Genotoxicity of the isoquinoline alkaloid berberine in prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms.
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Khin-Maung-U, Myo-Khin, Nyunt-Nyunt-Wai, et al. Clinical trial of berberine in acute watery diarrhoea.
BrMed J. 1985;291:1601–5.
Amin AH, Subbaiah TV, Abbasi KM. Berberine sulfate: antimicrobial activity, bioassay, and mode of action.
Can J Microbiol. 1969;15:1067–1076.
Liu Y, Yu H, Zhang C, et al. Protective effects of berberine on radiation-induced lung injury via intercellular adhesion molecular-1 and transforming growth factor-beta-1 in patients with lung cancer.
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2008 Sep 11.
Last reviewed July 2012 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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