Japanese Barberry – Berberis vulgaris

Barberry flowers
Barberry flowers

…I listen to the wind abrade

The red pastel clusters

Of Japanese barberry,

then walk to the brook…

by Wally Swist


This shrub was imported into North America from Europe. The main active ingredient in Barberry is Berberine which is predominantly found in the rhizomes. Berberine has antibacterial properties and is used in the treatment of enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery.

All parts of the bush are toxic except the fruit and seed. The Berberine, which is what makes it medicinal, is also responsible for its toxicity! Barberry extracts can cause stomach upset and should be used for no more than 2 weeks at a time. Exceeding berberine intake could cause lethargy, nosebleed, skin and eye irritation, and kidney irritation. It is considered a Category 3 toxicity, meaning causing only mild to moderate digestive, stomach and intestinal upset.

A yellow dye is obtained from the roots, bark, and stems. It can be used to stain cloth, wood, and leather. With the addition of alum as the mordant, it will dye linen a fine yellow!


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