You might know barberry as an ornamental (sometimes invasive) shrub, but it's also an herb that has been used for a few thousand years.
In folklore, barberry was used to ward off evil from the home. In traditional medicine, it had many uses, including to treat fevers, stimulate or ease digestion, and treat various skin issues.
Today, barberry has been the subject of quite a few research studies, mainly because of one of its active compounds- berberine.
Here's what you need to know about the main benefits of barberry root and berries, plus how to use it at home.
What is Barberry Root?
Barberry is a medium to large shrub that's native to regions of Europe, Africa, and Asia. It's now commonly grown in many areas outside of its native lands, including parts of North America.
The shrubs can grow anywhere from 3-15 feet tall and will develop bright red berries that are edible. They can be eaten raw or used to make an excellent jam because of their high pectin content.
There are over 500 different species of barberry, but the one most commonly grown and used for medicinal purposes is Berberis vulgaris. The berries, of course, can be harvested and used as well as the root bark.
If you want to try growing barberry yourself, the shrubs adapt to a wide range of soils and conditions and add ornamental appeal to the garden. However, be aware that they are invasive plants in certain regions, particularly Japanese barberry (B. thunbergii).
Grow the straight species (B. vulgaris) for the best quality herb and to avoid some of the invasiveness.
What are the Benefits of Barberry Root & Berries?
Nutritious + Beneficial Plant Compounds
The berries of barberry plants are highly nutritious. They are particularly rich in vitamin C, containing over 200% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin C in just a quarter cup serving.
That same serving also contains about 15% of the DV for iron, which makes the berries a very good plant-based source of iron. Other notable nutrients include zinc, manganese, copper, and antioxidants known as anthocyanins.
The roots of barberry aren't particularly high in vitamin C or other essential nutrients, but they do contain valuable plant compounds known as alkaloids.
The most prominent (and well-studied) alkaloid in barberry is known as berberine. It acts as a powerful antioxidant and has numerous documented therapeutic effects, including anticancer potential. (1)
Liver and Gallbladder Support
The alkaloids in barberry root, particularly berberine, give it bitter qualities that help to stimulate bile secretion in the liver. They also support overall liver function and help it to cleanse itself of toxins. (2)
A properly functioning liver is essential for your body to go through the natural process of detoxification and also supports a healthy gallbladder.
Your gallbladder is connected to both your liver and small intestine. It's responsible for holding a supply of bile and releasing it as necessary to help with the digestion of food.
When your gallbladder isn't functioning correctly, you may experience pain and have difficulty digesting foods that are high in fat.
By stimulating bile production and supporting your liver, barberry is one of the best herbs for gallbladder support as well.
There are a few benefits of barberry root for your digestive system.
To start with, it helps to stimulate a sluggish digestion and aids with the digestion of fats. This is mainly because the bitter compounds in the root promote bile production in your liver.
Another huge benefit is that barberry can help to ease diarrhea. It slows the transit of waste through the digestive tract and even fights certain bacteria, like E. coli, that cause infectious diarrhea. (3)(4)
Interestingly, the berberine in barberry also has a mild laxative effect that can help occasional constipation. It's truly the epitome of an herb that works according to what your body needs.
May Improve Blood Sugar
Several studies have shown that both barberry and berberine may have benefits for improving blood sugar levels.
Berberine appears to work by improving how your cells respond to insulin. This has the effect of lowering blood sugar levels and may also improve insulin resistance. (5)
In fact, some studies indicate that the effects of berberine on blood sugar and hemoglobin-A1c are comparable to the common diabetic medication Metformin. Barberry fruit extract has also shown benefits for lowering blood sugar. (6)(7)
Antimicrobial and Anti-Inflammatory Properties
As an antimicrobial, it fights certain strains of bacteria, fungi, and possibly viruses. It also has a stimulating effect on the immune system, which could make it a good ally for cold and flu season.
By calming inflammation and fighting bacteria, barberry also has special potential for fighting acne. It isn't as well researched as other acne remedies, but at least one study has shown that it can reduce acne lesions when taken as an extract (600 mg) for a 4-week period. (10)
Supports Urinary Health
A final benefit of barberry is that it acts as a diuretic to promote bladder/urinary health. Diuretics increase urination, which has the effect of helping to flush bacteria and other toxins out of your kidneys and urinary tract.
Either the bark or the berries can be used for this purpose, but the berries have the added benefit of replenishing vitamin C (a water soluble vitamin that gets flushed out easily) when you consume them.
How to Use Barberry Root
You can use dried barberry root to make a somewhat bitter tea or turn it into an herbal tincture. The root bark can also be powdered and taken in capsules with a common "dose" being 2-3 grams daily.
For liver detoxification, you may want to try barberry root in this Liver Cleanse Tea.
If you grow barberry, you can harvest the berries to make tea, tinctures, or jam. They can also simply be added to food or eaten whole to get an extra vitamin C boost.
Barberry root and berries are generally safe to use. The berries especially can be eaten in food-like quantities. However, taking large amounts of barberry may result in an upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, etc.
Some experts recommend that herbs containing berberine, including barberry, not be given to young children. Barberry is also contraindicated for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
There is a possibility that barberry may interact with certain medications, particularly those for blood pressure or the liver. Speak with a physician or qualified herbalist as needed before using.
Benefiting from Barberry Root
Barberry is an ancient medicinal plant that is still extremely helpful today. The root is most commonly used, but the berries also have health-boosting properties and are easy to harvest from existing barberry shrubs.
Particularly if you are looking for liver, gallbladder, and/or digestive support, consider making good use of the cleansing benefits of barberry root!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.