Berberis vulgaris

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Latest Edit: Hector 2014-03-18 (EDT)

See Also Botanical Monographs

Berberis (Berberis vulgaris) has many uses as an antimicrobial herb. To explore the characteristics, medicinal uses and prescribing considerations of this herb in more detail, check out the references indicated.[1] [2]


  • Common Names: Barberry, European barberry, Sowberry
  • Family: Berberidaceae
  • Habitat: Native to Europe, East Asia and naturalized in eastern North America; prefers deciduous woodlands, chalky soil
  • Parts Used: Root and stem bark, fruit
  • Constituents: Isoquinoline alkaloids (berberine, oxycanthine), chelidonic acid, resin, tannins, fruit, rich in vitamin C
  • Medicinal Actions: cholagogue, hepatic, antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiparasitic, (amebicidal), antimalarial, bitter, mild laxative


Historical Uses:

Berberis vulgaris was macerated along with Foeniculum vulgare in Ancient Egypt for fevers. It was also used by the Catawba for peptic ulcers.

Medicinal Uses:

Article Berberine - A medicine for cardiovascular health?, IHP, Feb/March 2009
  • Berberis is effective against bacterial and fungal infections.
  • It has a moderate level of cytotoxicity.

Prescribing Considerations

The information provided is intended to augment the treatment from a naturopathic doctor or other trained medical professional. Although most herbs are generally safe, it is recommended that you avoid self-prescribing especially when there is an underlying ongoing medical condition, if you are on any prescription medications or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Formulations and Preparation

  • Decoction: 1 tsp/cup (10-15 minutes) three times a day
  • Tincture: 1-2 mL (1:5, 60%) three times a day


The safety and prescribing considerations for Berberis include:[3], [4]

  • Generally regarded as safe.
  • Side-effects are generally not seen.
  • Contraindicated in pregnancy as it may cause uterine stimulation (in vitro, animal) and lactation as it can be toxic and cause jaundice in the newborn
  • Caution: not to be used without skilled therapeutic knowledge and not for more than 4-6 weeks
  • Drug-Herb Interactions. [2]
  • Reverses leucopenia induced by benzene, cancer chemotherapy (human study)
  • Eliminates inclusion bodies of Chlamydia trachomatis in conjunction with sulphacetamide (eye drops, human study)
  • Potentiates barbiturates
  • Improves outcomes in patients with congestive heart failure taking ACE inhibitors, digoxin, nitrates, and diuretics/spironolactone (human study)


  1. Boon Heather, Smith Michael (2009) 55 Most Common Medicinal Herbs: The Complete Natural Medicine Guide Second Edition Institute of Naturopathic Education and Research, CCNM Toronto.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Godfrey Anthony, Saunders Paul, Barlow Kerry, Gowan Matt (2011) Principles and Practices of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine, Advanced Botanical Medicine. V3 CCNM Press, Toronto.
  3. Stargrove Mitchell Bebell, Treasure Jonathan, McKee Dwight L (2008) Herb, Nutrient and Drug Interactions: Clinical Implications and Therapeutic Strategies
  4. Brinker Francis (2010) Herbal Contraindications and Drug Interactions: Plus Herbal Adjuncts With Medicines, 4th Edition Eclectic Medical Publications.