Barberry, also sometimes called berberis from the scientific name Berberis vulgaris, is a thorny, holly-like shrub native to many parts of Europe and North Africa. By the time European colonists introduced it to North America, the plant had been used as a folk remedy -- for treating illnesses from plague to syphilis -- for more than 2,000 years.
Uses: Some herbalists recommend extracts of barberry fruit or bark for treating sore throat, constipation, stomach cramps and fever; increasing appetite; and boosting immunity. It's also sometimes suggested for treating liver disease, rheumatism and urinary tract infections.
Dose: As a tea, with a half to two teaspoons of powdered bark or crushed berries in a cup of water.
Precautions: Moderate use generally does not produce side effects, but large doses can cause nausea, vomiting and steep drops in blood pressure.
Research: Studies have shown that barberry root and bark extracts can lower blood pressure and body temperature, reduce swelling and cure diarrhea in laboratory animals. Laboratory studies have confirmed some of barberry's reputed antimicrobial powers, but few studies have verified the effects in humans.
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-- Elena Conis