Berberis is the genus name for a large group of related species. Some of the common names for berberis species includes Barberry (B. vulgaris), Mahonia (B. aquifolium) Oregon grape, Mountain grape, and more, depending on where you are in the world.
The most commonly used species of Berberis is B. vulgaris, otherwise known as barberry.
The genus as a whole contains the chemical known as berberine, which is also found in the popular medicinal species referred commonly as "goldenseal".
berberine is a potent antibacterial molecule, which is especially useful for digestive tract infections. It is a bitter, yellow coloured substance that is also useful as a bitter tonic for liver and digestive complaints.
[1, 5, 13]
- Antimicrobial [1, 2, 3]
- Bitter tonic
- Hepatoprotective 
- Mild laxative
Berberis aquifolium (Mahonia)
Berberis vulgaris (Barberry)
Berberis aristata (Indian barberry)
Root/Rhizome and root bark
Liquid Extract (1:2)
A note on long term usage.
This herb can be taken long term with the above listed dosages
[1, 5, 13]
- Chronic skin conditions
- Bacterial and fungal infections
- Protozoal infection
- Parasitic infection
- Congestive heart failure (as adjunctive treatment)
- Type-2 diabetes mellitus
- High cholesterol
- Metabolic syndrome
- Fatty liver disease (non-alcoholic)
- Convalescence (as a tonic)
- Elevated blood lipids
- Protection from radiation injury
- Gastrointestinal indications
- Lower GI infection
- To stimulate bile secretion
- Infectious diarrhea
- Acute diarrhea
- Gastric ulcer
- Skin disorders and infections
- Acne vulgaris
- Trachoma (as eye drops)
- Oregon grape
- Mountain grape
- Mahonia aquifolia
- Holly-leaved Barberry
- Zereshk (Persian)
Berberis has a long history of use in western herbal medicine. It was used as a decoction as a blood purifier in the spring months, and topically as a mouth and eyewash .
The eclectics generally regarded berberis as a tonic, and for liver and gallbladder issues. They also used berberis for diarrhea, dysentery, and parasitic infections (including malaria) .
There are over 500 species in the Berberis genus, the most common one in Europe is Berberis vulgaris . In North America, especially in the rocky mountains Berberis aquifolia (Mahonia) is the most common.
The bark appears brown on the outside, but if cut will reveal a yellow interior, this yellow is due to the high berberine content contained in the plant.
Botanical differences in some common species:
The leaves of Mahonia (Berberis aquifolium) are characteristically shiny, and resemble those of holly. It grows to about 6 feet high and is extremely hardy .
Berberis vulgaris leaves are not as shiny as mahonia species. This species has leaves arranged in clusters on short axillary shoots. The leaf shape is obovate to oblong obovate. The leaves can reach up to 4 cm long. .
Habitat Ecology, and Distribution:
Still compiling research.
Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:
Still compiling research.
Constituents (root bark):
[1, 12, 13]
- Alkaloids (up to 13%)
- Oleanolic acid
- Stigmasterol glucoside
Pharmacology and Medical Research:
Berberine has been found to possess significant antibacterial actions, especially against gram-positive bacteria such as E.coli. methicillin resistant Staphylococcus areus (MRSA), and S. epidermidis .
Berberine is active against bacteria such as:
- Salmonella typhi 
- Escheria coli [1, 13]
- MRSA 
- Staphylococcus epidermus/aureus/pyogenes [1, 13]
Berberine was found active against:
- Aspergillus flavus/fumigatus 
- Candida albicans [1, 3]
- Including drug-resistant strains 
- Curvularia 
- Drechslera 
- Fusarium 
- Mucor 
- Penicillium 
- Rhizopus oryzae 
- Scroupulariopsis 
Berberine possesses powerfully anti-parasitic actions comparable to quinine against 2 clones of human malaria (Plasmodium berghei and P. falciparum) . Berberine was not found to be active against P. berghei parasitised mice however .
Berberine was found to possess anti-leishmaniasis activity as well .
Berberine was found effective against parasites including:
- Entamoeba histoytica 
- Giardia lamblia 
- Trichomonas vaginalis 
- Plasmodium berghei/falciparum 
Fatty Liver Disease
Berberis has been shown to reduce fatty liver disease in the non alcoholic version of the disease. These effects were noted through a reduction of liver transaminases (ALT, AST), cholesterol, triglyceride LDL-C, and weight . This is a significant finding because currently there are few treatments for the disease .
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can progress to non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis (NASH), or liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, and failure [7-10]. Moreover, a decrease in liver triglycerides leads ultimately to a reduction in insulin sensitivity, and protection against type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome . These disease processes are considered to be closely related and by treating one it appears that the other is subsequently being addressed. Therefore, berberine, and other herbs that target metabolic syndrome and insulin sensitivity may be an important treatment option for the prevention of NAFLD induced metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.
Toxicity and Contraindications:
Berberis is contraindicated in pregnancy. [1, 13]. This may be an outdated suggestion however, more research is needed .
- This herb is generally regarded as safe with no adverse reactions expected within the doses below .
- High doses of berberine have been reported to increase the bioavailability of cyclosporin .
Still compiling research.
Recent Blog Posts:
- Bone K, Mills S. (2013). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Elsevier health. China.
- Mahmoudvand, H., Ayatollahi Mousavi, S. A., Sepahvand, A., Sharififar, F., Ezatpour, B., Gorohi, F., Jahanbakhsh, S. (2014). Antifungal, Antileishmanial, and Cytotoxicity Activities of Various Extracts of Berberis vulgaris (Berberidaceae) and Its Active Principle Berberine. ISRN Pharmacology, 2014, 1-6. doi:10.1155/2014/602436
- Da Silva, A. R., De Andrade Neto, J. B., Da Silva, C. R., Campos, R. D., Costa Silva, R. A., Freitas, D. D., Nobre Júnior, H. V. (2016). Berberine Antifungal Activity in Fluconazole-Resistant Pathogenic Yeasts: Action Mechanism Evaluated by Flow Cytometry and Biofilm Growth Inhibition in Candida spp. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 60(6), 3551-3557. doi:10.1128/aac.01846-15
- Iloon Kashkooli, R., Najafi, S. S., Sharif, F., Hamedi, A., Hoseini Asl, M. K., Najafi Kalyani, M., & Birjandi, M. (2015). The Effect of Berberis Vulgaris Extract on Transaminase Activities in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Hepat Mon, 15(2). doi:10.5812/hepatmon.25067
- A Modern Herbal. (1931). Grape, Mountain. Retrieved from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/g/gramou33.html
- Eslami L, Merat S, Nasseri-Moghaddam S. (2009). Treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (nafld): A systematic review. MEJDD. 1(2):89–99.
- Hajiaghamohammadi AA, Ziaee A, Samimi R. (2012). The efficacy of licorice root extract in decreasing transaminase activities in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 26(9):1381–4.
- Jamali R. (2013). Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Diagnosis and evaluation of disease severity. 2(4):43–51.
- Razavizade M, Jamali R, Arj A, Matini SM, Moraveji A, Taherkhani E. (2013). The effect of pioglitazone and metformin on liver function tests, insulin resistance, and liver fat content in nonalcoholic Fatty liver disease: a randomized double blinded clinical trial. Hepat Mon. 13(5).
- Kirovski G, Schacherer D, Wobser H, Huber H, Niessen C, Beer C, (2010). Prevalence of ultrasound-diagnosed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in a hospital cohort and its association with anthropometric, biochemical and sonographic characteristics. Int J Clin Exp Med. 3(3):202–10.
- Chang X, Yan H, Fei J, Jiang M, Zhu H, Lu D, (2010). Berberine reduces methylation of the MTTP promoter and alleviates fatty liver induced by a high-fat diet in rats. J Lipid Res. 2010;51(9):2504–15.
- Saeidnia, S., Gohari, A., Kurepaz-Mahmoodabadi, M., & Mokhber-Dezfuli, N. (2014). Phytochemistry and Pharmacology of Berberis Species. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 8(15), 8. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.125517
- Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: Herbal formulations for the individual patient. Edinburgh [u.a.: Churchill Livingstone. (Pg. 88-92).