Europian barberry

Europian barberry

Europian barberry

Specification & Spread

European barberry leaves — folia berberidis vulgaris
European barberry roots — radices berberidis vulgaris
European barberry — berberis vulgaris
Barberry family— berberidaceae
Other names: Berberis vulgaris, pipperidge tree.

The prickly shrub is up to 3 m tall with a well-developed root system.
The rhizome is horizontal, with a large taproot with side branches and bright yellow wood.
The branches with prickles are up to 2 cm long, old trunks are covered with grayish bark.
The spines are 3- or 5-separate, less often simple, light brown on young shoots and gray on old ones. In their sinuses there are shortened shoots with leaves.
The leaves are elliptical or obovate, up to 4 cm long, sharply spruce along the edge, narrowed into a short leafstalk.
The flowers are trimerous, with a double perianth, bright yellow and collected by 15-25 in drooping brushes up to 6 cm.
The fruit is juicy, elongated, berry-like monocarp, 9-10 mm long, from purple to dark red, usually with a weak waxy bloom.
It blooms in May – June. The fruits ripen in August – September and remain on the bushes until winter.

Spreading. It occurs in the Caucasus, the Crimea and in some southern and western regions of the European part of the country.

Habitat. It grows on rocky slopes, in the mountains, in the floodplains of rivers and streams. It grows mainly in disturbed plant communities, bleached pine forests, thickets, and forest meadows. European barberry is widely cultivated throughout the forest and forest-steppe zones as an ornamental plant.


The leaves contain:

  • the amount of isoquinoline alkaloids (1.5%), the main one is berberine, and also:
  • polysaccharides,
  • anthocyanins,
  • ascorbic acid,
  • carotenoids,
  • phenol carboxylic acids,
  • coumarins.

Barberry roots contain:

  • alkaloids of the isoquinoline group,
  • the main one is berberine (0.47-2.38%),
  • except it contains iatrorizin (iatroricin),
  • magnoflorin and others.

The largest amount of alkaloids accumulates in the root bark – up to 15% (berberine – up to 9.4%).
Also it is found a gamma-pyrone derivative – chelidonic acid.

Harvesting and storage of raw materials

Harvesting. The leaves are harvested in the phase of budding and flowering. The raw materials are collected manually and cleaned of impurities.
The roots of barberry can be harvested during the growing season. While harvesting, first all above-ground shoots at their base are cut off. Then it is dug in the soil around the bush within a radius of 0.5 m and to a depth of about 0.5-0.6 m, starting to dig from the trunk. Then the roots are uprooted manually or pulled out with a cable attached to the machine or tractor.  The entire underground part is collected, picking up small roots and bark, as they contain a large amount of berberine. The dug roots of barberry are cleaned from the earth and other impurities, while removing the blackened and rotten parts. Washing the roots is not allowed, since berberine is highly soluble in water.

Security measures. While harvesting the roots, it is necessary to leave intact at least one barberry bush for every 10 m2 of undergrowth. The harvesting of raw materials on the same thickets is allowed to be carried out no more than once in 10 years.

Drying. The leaves and roots are dried in a well-ventilated area, under a canopy in the open air or in dryers at a temperature of 40-50 ºС.
Storage. The raw materials are stored on racks in a well-ventilated area.

The leaves are whole, 2-7 cm long and 1-4 cm wide, with a wedge-shaped base and a rounded top, thin, covered on both sides with a waxy bloom. On the edge it is finely serrated, the teeth of the leaf are elongated into a soft needle. The venation is pinnate. The main vein slightly resembles a broken line. The leafstalk is naked, grooved, slightly winged at the top. The colour of the leaves from the upper side is dark green, matte, from the bottom is more light. The smell is peculiar. The taste is sour.

The whole raw materials are cylindrical, straight or curved pieces of woody roots with a length of 2 to 20 cm, a thickness is up to 6 cm. There are coarse-fibrous fracture. The colour of the roots outside is grayish-brown or brown and lemon-yellow on the fracture. The smell is weak and peculiar. The taste is bitter.

Ground raw materials. The pieces of roots of various shapes is passing through a sieve with holes of 7 mm diameter.

Properties and application

In the experiment infusion and tincture of barberry:

  • increase bile secretion.

Berberine at full patency of the common bile duct causes:

  • dilution of bile without changing its quantity,
  • and in violation of the patency of the common bile duct increases the amount of bile and leads to its dilution.

The mechanism of action of barberry preparation associated:

  • like with antispastic effect on the gallbladder,
  • so with choleretic effect.

The relaxation of the gallbladder is accompanied by the cessation of pain.

Barberry preparations cause:

  • contraction of the smooth muscles of the uterus,
  • vasoconstriction
  • accelerate blood coagulation.

Application of barberry

Infusion and tincture of the leaves of barberry ordinary use as:

  • anti-inflammatory and
  • choleretic agent in diseases of the liver and biliary tract.

Barberry leaves tincture is used in obstetric practice as an aid with atonic bleeding in the postpartum period, with bleeding associated with inflammatory processes, and in menopause. Barberry preparations are contraindicated in bleeding associated with incomplete separation of the placenta from the walls of the uterus.

Green berries of a barberry are poisonous !!

It is necessary to be careful with cholelithiasis and liver cirrhosis.

It is forbidden to use it for:

  • children under the age of 12 years.
  • Pregnancy, lactation.
  • Chronic hepatitis, liver tuberculosis, during menopause and with uterine, menstrual and postpartum hemorrhage.