Barberry is a bush that grows wild in Europe and North America. It is closely related to Oregon grape ( Berberis aquifolium). The root, stem, bark, and fruit of barberry are all used medicinally. Barberry was traditionally used as a treatment for digestive problems, including constipation, diarrhea, dyspepsia (stomach upset), heartburn, and loss of appetite. It was said to work by increasing the flow of bile, and on this basis it has also been used for liver and gallbladder problems. Topical preparations of barberry have been recommended for the treatment of eczema, psoriasis, and minor wounds.

There are no medically established uses of barberry. Only double-blind placebo-controlled studies, can establish a treatment effective, and none have been performed on barberry. (For information on why this type of study is essential, seeWhy Does This Database Rely on Double-Blind Studies?)

Very weak evidence (too weak to be relied upon at all) hints that barberry root extracts may have anti-inflammatory, fever-reducing, and analgesic (pain-reducing) effects.1,2

Similarly weak evidence hints that barberry fruit may have antihypertensive and antihistaminic effects.3,4

Barberry, like goldenseal and Oregon grape, contains the chemical berberine. There has been some studies of purified berberine that might apply to barberry, as well. Berberine inhibits the growth of many microorganisms, including fungi, protozoa, and bacteria.5-11,22In one placebo-controlled study, berberine effectively reduced lung injury among lung cancer patients receiving radiation therapy.23

On this basis, berberine has been proposed as a topical antiseptic for use in minor wounds and vaginal infections. Berberine has also shown potential as a treatment for various heart-related conditions, including reducinghigh cholesterol and high blood pressure and preventing heart arrhythmias.12-14 However, it is not clear that barberry provides enough berberine to produce any of these potential benefits.

Topical formulations of the related plant Oregon grape have shown some promise for psoriasis,15-17 and barberry has been marketed for this condition as well. However, there is no direct evidence that it works.