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Barberries: A Unique Fruit With Fascinating Nutritional, Health and Culinary Aspects

Updated on October 3, 2012

What is the barberry? It is the fruit of a bush with yellow flowers and grey-green leaves,[2] found on multiple continents both as a native and an introduced species, not widely known and perhaps in some circles treated more as as a tool in the herbalist's or gardener's armory rather than a culinary ingredient or flavouring. There may be some confusion due to different species being labelled as barberries of various kinds, but here we are discussing the plant with the Latin name Berberis vulgaris, or the European barberry. The barberry belongs to the family Berberidaceae​ and the genus Berberis and grows in many countries, having been cultivated for centuries and grown wild even longer.

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It may be located as the whole or ground berry, as a tincture or extract or in supplements via capsules. You can buy whole and ground barberries, herbal teas containing barberry and barberry supplements in many well-stocked wholefood shops as well as on Amazon.

Are there any nutritional benefits to the barberry? What ailments do herbalists commonly prescribe barberry for? What scientific studies have been done, and what results have they turned up? Studies such as those by Tomosaka et al (2008) have found interesting results suggesting the potential antioxidant activity and possible cytoprotective effects of the barberry.[3] It may also have some beneficial effects regarding the destruction of bacteria and assisting in the effective functioning of the immune system.[6]

Are you interested in growing barberries for your own purposes? The plant is often highly decorative with usually bright red berries. In appearance it is usually under eight feet tall, with unimpressive flowers but striking berries.[2] In some countries it may be treated as potentially harmful, even with edicts banning its growth, due to its tendency to take over territory.

Are there culinary purposes for which the barberry is truly useful? In some times and areas it has been used for jam and jelly-making,[2] and also such goodies as biscuits and ice-cream, and it is commonly used as a herb and in herbal teas. Regarding flavour, it has been described as tart and sharp.

Intrigued by the mysterious barberry plant and herb? Find out more today!


[1] Mehdi, K., Reza, M., Reza, K., Soheila, R. 'Evaluation of Manganese, Boron, Potassium, Calcium and Zinc Effects on Yield and Fruit Quality of Barberry (Berberis vulgaris L.) Plants'. Horticulture, Environment, and Biotechnology. Oct 2008. 49:5: pp. 293-297

[2] Blanchan, N. 'Wild Flowers Worth Knowing'. Bibliolife: 2008, p.95.

[3] Tomosaka, H., Chin, Y.-W., Salim, A. A., Keller, W. J., Chai, H. and Kinghorn, A. D. 'Antioxidant and cytoprotective compounds from Berberis vulgaris (barberry)'. Phytotherapy Research. 2008. 22: pp. 979–981.

[4] Motalieb, G., Hanachi, P., Kua, S.H., Fauziah, O., Asmah, R. 'Evaluation of Phenolic Content and Total Antioxidant Activity in Berberis vulgaris Fruit Extract'. Journal of Biological Sciences. 2005. 5;5: pp. 648-653.

[5] Wikipedia. 'Berberis'. Wikipedia website. 27/10/2010. Available at <> Accessed on 28/10/2010.

[6] Ronzio, R.A. 'The encyclopedia of nutrition and good health'. New York; Facts On File, Inc.: 2003, p.322.

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