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Berberis (Mahonia) Aquifolium.

Botanical name:

Related entry: Berberis vulgaris

The root of Berberis aquifolium, Pursh (Nat. Ord. Berberidaceae). Western United States from Colorado to the Pacific coast; cultivated also for ornament among shrubbery.
Common Names: Oregon Grape, Mountain Grape.

Principal Constituents.—Berberine, the yellow alkaloid (see Hydrastis) and two white alkaloids—berbamine and oxyacanthine.
Preparation.—Specific Medicine Berberis. Dose, 1 to 30 drops.
Specific Indications.—Syphilitic dyscrasia; chronic skin diseases, with blood dyscrasia with or without syphilitic taint; profusely secreting tumid mucous membranes; indigestion, with hepatic torpor.

Action and Therapy.—This agent is alterative, tonic, and probably corrective to syphilitic constitutions, but without any proved specific action upon treponema. It stimulates secretion and excretion, improves digestion and assimilation; it activates the lymphatic system and ductless glands; and augments the renal secretion. It is a corrector and eliminator of depraved body fluids and assists thereby in good blood-making. In this way most likely its good effects are produced in such grave constitutional disorders as syphilis. Certainly the ravages of this disease are lessened under these circumstances and aggravated by general ill-conditions. If then syphilitic dyscrasia is benefited by this drug, and clinical results seem to show that it is, it is probably due to its general alterative effects in maintaining good elimination and good metabolic action of the organs vital to nutrition.

Like hydrastis, Berberis aquifolium is an excellent peptic bitter and tonic to the gastric function, and is, therefore, a drug of much value in atonic dyspepsia, with hepatic torpor. Upon the mucosa its effects are like those of hydrastis controlling catarrhal outpouring and erosion of tissue. For this purpose it is useful in stomatitis and gastric and intestinal catarrh. Remotely it sometimes controls leucorrhoea. If these are associated with syphilis, it helps the latter to the extent that it controls these disorders.

Berberis aquifolium has won its reputation chiefly as a remedy for the syphilitic taint. The more chronic the conditions or results of the disease, the more it has been praised. Some claim that if given early it will abort the tertiary stage, but this of course depends in most cases upon the resisting powers of the body and the care the patient takes of himself. Apparently berberis fortifies the resisting powers by its alterative and reparative action. The bone, mucosa, and cutaneous disorders following in the wake of syphilis seem to clear up under its persistent use, when given in appreciable doses. Whether it has any effect on the nervous damage from this taint is not yet apparent. It does, however, relieve the night pains and the shin pain of syphilitic periostitis. Syphilitic phagedena disappears under its use, and sometimes the anemia of syphilis yields to its nutritional improvement. It should be given freely in syphilitic leucoplakia of the tongue, mouth, and throat, where the mucosa is tumid and secreting excessively, and when emaciation and weakness with yellowish parchment-like skin are evident. At all events, though probably not a direct antisyphilitic, its general effect upon waste and nutrition is so beneficial that it should invariably be associated with other treatment in chronic syphilitic diathesis.

Other dyscrasiae seem to be influenced by this drug. It aids to some degree to mitigate the miseries of the consumptive, and in chronic skin diseases its internal use has hastened the effects from external medication. Eczema, psoriasis (temporarily at least), and herpetic eruptions have disappeared under its persistent use. The specific medicine should be given in doses of from 10 to 20 drops well diluted, every 3 or 4 hours.


The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 1922, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D.



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