Friday, February 10, 2012

Wild Medicinal: Barberry

Barberry is actually a family name instead of  the name of a specific plant, but since they can all be used interchangeably, I've always just used the name barberry when talking about them.  There are many different kinds of barberry, some native, some not.  Here in Wisconsin we usually have the invasive Japanese barberry that was originally brought here as an ornamental bush because of it's leaf color in late summer.  The birds, however, have planted its seeds in many woodlots now, choking off the native plants that once grew there.  So using it in one of its two medicinal forms is a good way to help keep the plant from spreading.

Barberries can be as large as trees and as small as knee high bushes.  They are usually covered with rings of thorns, where both the oval leaves and the yellow flowers are as well.   As I said, there are two medicinal used for the barberry; the antibiotic use of the berberine in the roots and for this time of year the red blood building berries.  Barberry berries are edible but pretty bland.  Most people do not consider them to be a wild edible.  But soak the berries in alcohol for a couple of months and you have a very good tincture for rebuilding red blood cells.  That is what I will talk about here, the roots are best harvested in the fall after the leaves have died back.

There are quite a few berries on each plant so, if you avoid the thorns, gathering a good amount of them is quite easy.  Check them over, throw away any chafe, then put them into a canning jar.  Pour at least 100 proof vodka to just cover the berries, put the cap on the jar and shake.  Put it out of direct sunlight and shake it a couple times a day for a couple months.  Strain out the berries and you have a blood building tincture.

A friend of mine had a small ulcer and found that the medicine she was given made her sick.  So I gave her a tonic of barberry root for its antibiotic properties, barberry berries to build up her red blood cells, and cabbage water to soothe her stomach lining.  She drank it for two weeks and went back to the doctor and her ulcer had healed.  Another friend had a sever urinary tract infection and she drank a 8 oz glass of water with 30 drops of barberry berry tincture in it 3 times a day.  Her infection cleared up in 10 days with no damage to her urinary tract. 

Barberry berries stay on the branch for several months into the winter so it is a great winter wild medicinal to gather.  I gather the roots in the fall, just before the last hard frost and the berries usually after the snow flew.  Of course this year the snow didn't fly but that's another story.  lol  The best thing about gathering barberry here in Wisconsin is that it helps keep the plant from spreading more than it already has.  You're doing nature a favor and creating a healing brew for yourself as well.
The red foliage from this fall

Barberry berries in the fall


  1. I was told these were poisonous as a child.
    If I am thinking of the same plant. I am going to do a bit of photo research on this particular they go by any other names, Rea? You certainly have my curiosity piqued, lol.

    Thanks for a great sharing today!

    1. Akasa, berberine isn't exactly good for you, except as a medicine. Just like you wouldn't eat antibiotics for dinner.(yuck) lol

      As a medicine though barberry root is used interchangable with oregon grape root and goldenseal, two plants that can be locally endangered.

      Thank you for reading!

  2. Yes, indeed, it is the same plant I was told is is good to know it is not and what we can do with it! :)