Barberry – Beneficial Properties And Contraindications

Both folk medicine and herbal medicine often use barberry. In ancient Babylon, this berry was known as a medicinal plant. It was used in medicine, cosmetology, and even in divination. For a more detailed acquaintance with the beneficial properties and features of this plant, we offer this article so that you can see how relevant this plant is today.

The barberry family is quite large and includes up to 600 species. The homeland of the most common barberry is Crimea and the Caucasus. Most often, barberry grows in the wild. Since barberry berries and leaves are not widely consumed products, breeders did not develop domesticated varieties for harvest, but there are many ornamental varieties.

Barberry wood has long been valued in the Caucasus and in the mountainous regions of Asia – it has such a beautiful scaly structure that it is used for inlay work.

Barberry is a tree-like thorny shrub that grows on all continents except Australia.
Barberry is most common in the mountainous regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The berries of the common barberry (Berberis vulgaris) are mainly used for food, they are bright red in color.

The first work on the benefits of berries was published in 1903 by R.I. Schroeder. The text mentioned the wonderful taste of citric acid, which is part of barberry.

Nowadays, many people are familiar with the taste of this unusual plant from sweet and sour candies – “barberries”.

The use of barberry in cooking

Fresh, fully ripened barberry berries are used to make jam, juice, jelly, syrup, and compote. Confectioners use barberry to make pastille and candy, as well as lollipops. Sometimes ripe berries are added to salads.

Barberry is mainly used dried as a seasoning for meat – it is difficult to imagine Central Asian pilaf without this berry. The dried berries are used either whole or powdered and served separately with grilled or skewered meat, kebabs, lula kebabs, and even lamb broth.

When young leaves first appear on the barberry bushes, they are carefully picked, thinly sliced, and added to salads: these leaves have a fresh herbal flavor and a slight sourness that allows you to do without adding vinegar or lemon juice to the dressing.

More mature leaves, which already have a dark purple color, can be dried and added as a natural acidifier to marinades for meat, poultry, and fish.

Many types of barberry are excellent honey plants. Barberry honey has a lemon color and a delicate, slightly sour flavor; it is good to use as an ingredient for salad dressing, as well as to brush poultry with it when baking.

The tartly sour bright red berries of barberry are added as a pleasant seasoning to savory sauces for meat and poultry. In some Caucasian cuisines, berries are added to horseradish, and in Central Asia, they have certainly put in a pilaf.

Barberry is also used to make a sour drink, which, after fermentation, turns into vinegar with a rather unusual taste.

Useful properties of the berry

The caloric content per 100 g of barberry (fresh berries) is 29.6 kcal, and dried barberry – is 152 kcal. Barberry contains vitamins: A (23.33 mg), beta-carotene (140 mg), and C (500 mg). The fruits of the plant contain organic acids (citric, malic, and tartaric) and natural sugars (glucose and fructose). The chemical composition of the berries also includes pectins, ash, tannins, and resin.

The bark of the shrub contains the following alkaloids: berbamine, berberine, and tannin.

The daily allowance of the plant’s fruits, both fresh and dry, is 1 tablespoon.

Healing properties of barberry

  • It stimulates appetite by increasing gastric juice secretion.
  • It is a diuretic.
  • Reduces blood pressure.
  • Calms the nervous system.
  • It has a vasodilating effect (bark and fruits).
  • It is a good hemostatic agent.
  • It has astringent, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and bactericidal properties.
  • It relieves stomach spasms.
  • It is a choleretic (choleretic) and antipyretic agent.
  • It is used in the case of liver diseases.
  • Normalizes spleen functioning.
  • Activates the thyroid gland, pituitary gland, and sex hormones.
  • It lowers blood sugar.
  • It is an antitumor agent.

In order to stop bleeding, an alcohol tincture of barberry leaves is used. It especially helps with uterine bleeding. It treats jaundice and liver diseases.

Barberry is used in the treatment of anemia, fever, diarrhea, and cholera. It gently relieves stomach cramps and intestinal colic.

Dried barberry strengthens the immune system. Due to its glucose and fructose content, it is useful for people with diabetes mellitus.

Substances in the plant bark normalize heart function and lower blood pressure.

Tea with barberry. Add 1 teaspoon of dried barberry to a teapot steamed with boiling water and pour 250 ml of boiling water. Leave to brew for 10 minutes. After straining and adding sugar to it, if desired, tea is drunk warm for half an hour after meals. You can drink up to 7 cups per day. Useful properties of tea: improves blood circulation, relieves inflammation, stimulates appetite, relieves fever, and strengthens the heart.

Barberry juice. Pour dried berries into boiling water and cook over low heat for no more than 10 minutes. Then let it brew for no more than 2 hours and add sugar, and vanilla powder, previously diluted in water. Mix all the ingredients well. The fruit drink is good for diseases accompanied by high fever, disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, gallbladder, liver, hemorrhoids, and constipation.

Barberry root: medicinal properties

While berries are mostly used in cooking, barberry root, leaves, stems, and bark are used in medicine. They are used to make medicinal teas, ointments, and pills.

Medicinal properties of barberry root: relieves fever; is used as a sedative; kills germs in the body; is used to treat colds.

Harm and contraindications for the use of barberry

Do not eat unripe berries, as they are poisonous (they contain the alkaloid berberine). Barberry is best picked in early fall (September – October).

Also, berries should not be ingested in the following cases:

  • liver cirrhosis.
  • during pregnancy (can lead to miscarriage), during breastfeeding, postpartum and
  • menopausal bleeding.
  • cholelithiasis.
  • acute hepatitis and during complications of the disease.
  • children under 12 years of age.
  • individual intolerance.

Since berry is a strong sedative, it is not recommended to use them in combination with other drugs that depress the nervous system (for example, sleeping pills).

An overdose of barberry can lead to the following side effects: dizziness, nausea, nosebleeds, edema, and kidney failure.

Barberry season

The thorny barberry shrub bears fruit in September. Its berries are called the “northern lemon” – unripe berries are so sour and bitter that it is almost impossible to eat them. However, if you pick barberry after the first frost (the berries stay on the bush until winter), there is much less acid and bitterness in it. All year round, you can buy dry barberry in stores and markets.

Harvesting barberries

Unripe barberries are hard and light red or even pink, while the most delicious berries are red, burgundy, and quite soft. If barberry berries are picked to be dried, they are allowed to ripen, then carefully (thorns make picking very difficult) picked and laid out in an even layer on a cloth. The berries are dried in the shade until they are completely shriveled and turn a dark, almost black color. Both fresh and dried berries taste rather sour due to the content of acids: malic, citric, and tartaric.

Fresh barberry is stored in the refrigerator for about a week. Dried berries can be stored for up to a year.

Application in cosmetology

Barberry berries are often used in the manufacture of cosmetics. In-home cosmetology, their main application is anti-aging masks, infusions, and decoctions for skin care. Ripe barberry effectively cleanses, smoothes the skin, and eliminates such defects as fine wrinkles, age spots, circles under the eyes, freckles, and acne.

Rubbing the skin with ice made from barberry juice or decoction is a tonic and useful morning procedure. Fresh juice perfectly strengthens brittle nails and whitens the skin. Decoctions of leaves and fruits are used for rinsing hair.

So, barberry has proven to be an effective medicine, but people who are going to be treated with its help should first get a doctor’s advice and permission to use it. Be careful, and take care of yourself and your health.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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