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  • Jovita Turan

A Brief Summary and Health Benefits of Barberry (Berberis vulgaris L.)

By Jovita Turan, March 21, 2021

Berberis vulgaris L. mostly known as barberry, common barberry, or common European barberry belongs to the Berberis genus and Berberidaceae family and is a spiny deciduous evergreen shrub that grows up to 1-3 m tall. It has yellow to brown bark, obovate leaves, and flowers that are pendulous yellow in spring that turns to oblong red-colored, sharply acidic fruits.

Genus Berberis naturally grows in moderate and semitropical areas of Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America. Berberis vulgaris L. is the most widely used and investigated plant of this genus.

Iliustration of Berberis vulgaris L. by Otto Wilhelm Thomé, 1885


Common barberry fruit carries many important nutrients such as citric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, dextrose, fructose, pectin, and resin. The fruit is rich in vitamins C and A, minerals Ca, Fe, K, Zn, Cu, and Mn.

Phytochemical analysis showed that Berberis vulgaris contain protein, lipid, alkaloids, tannins, carotenoids, anthocyanin, and phenolic compounds.

Various alkaloids such as berberine, oxyaconthine, berbamine, brolicin, and columbamine were identified in different parts of the plant, where berberine is the most important of them as it is responsible for antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, and hypolipidemic activities. Berberine may be effective to prevent coronary artery disease and reduce total levels of cholesterol and triglyceride. Berbamine alkaloid is another very important alkaloid of the plant that is blocking calcium channels, it is active in lipids peroxidation in red blood cells and can exert anti-myocardial ischemia and antiarrhythmic effects. While oxyaconthine has a sympatholytic and vasodilatory agent.


Many studies have shown that various species of the genus Berberis have anti-arrhythmic, anti-cholinergic, antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-leishmaniasis, anti-malaria, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antipyretic, cholagogic, and sedative properties.

All parts of the barberry, including fruit, stem, bark, and root are used for pharmaceutical purposes, fruit being the most frequent organ used in traditional and modern medicine.

Traditional medicine

Barberry medicinal properties have been known for over 3000 years. In traditional medicine, the plant is used for bleeding, cough, depression, fever, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and liver disease. In Ayurvedic, barberry is used to cure eye, ear, and mouth infections, piles, and hemorrhoids, to lose weight, in wound healing, to treat dysentery, indigestion, uterine and vaginal disorders as well as to treat snake or scorpion bite as an antidote.

In Iranian traditional medicine, the plant is used to cure jaundice, enlarged liver, enlarged spleen, eyesores, toothache, asthma, and skin pigmentation. It is also used in the treatment of scorbutus, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, diabetes, icterus, kidney stones, gout, rheumatism, and skin diseases.

In Bulgaria and Eastern world, extractions from the roots are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic inflammatory diseases. In northern Europe, the plant is still used to treat disorders of the bladder, liver, and gallbladder.

Recent studies

The extract from common European barberry is effective to treat and prevent the formation of stones in the gastrointestinal tract. The alkaloids found in the plant may protect from diabetes as it has a potential to increase insulin secretion. It represents the protective effect on brain function and may help in the prevention of cognitive disorders. The plant has bene effects on blood pressure and lipid profiles.


Berberis vulgaris is used in the food industry and consumed as dried, refreshing fruit. It can be processed into candies, carbonated drinks, jam, jelly, juice, marmalade, and sauce. Also, it is used in pastry and bakery products.

Dried Berberis vulgaris L. fruits by Conifer, 2015

In industry, anthocyanin derived from barberry fruit is used as a nature-based colorant. The fruits of barberry are crucial food for small birds that are the main seed dispersers.


  • Fatehi, M., Saleh, T. M., Fatehi-Hassanabad, Z., Farrokhfal, K., Jafarzadeh, M., & Davodi, S. (2005). A pharmacological study on Berberis vulgaris fruit extract. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 102(1), 46-52.

  • Končić, M. Z., Kremer, D., Karlović, K., & Kosalec, I. (2010). Evaluation of antioxidant activities and phenolic content of Berberis vulgaris L. and Berberis croatica Horvat. Food and chemical toxicology, 48(8-9), 2176-2180.

  • Meliani, N., Dib, M. E. A., Allali, H., & Tabti, B. (2011). Hypoglycaemic effect of Berberis vulgaris L. in normal and streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Asian Pacific journal of tropical biomedicine, 1(6), 468-471.

  • Rahimi-Madiseh, M., Lorigoini, Z., Zamani-Gharaghoshi, H., & Rafieian-Kopaei, M. (2017). Berberis vulgaris: specifications and traditional uses. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, 20(5), 569.

  • Zarei, A., Changizi-Ashtiyani, S., Taheri, S., & Ramezani, M. (2015). A quick overview on some aspects of endocrinological and therapeutic effects of Berberis vulgaris L. Avicenna journal of phytomedicine, 5(6), 485.

  • Main picture: Arnstein Rønning, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons,

  • Iliustration:

  • Dried fruits picture: Conifer, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons,


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