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Berberis. Br. Berberis.

"Berberis is the dried stem of Berberis aristata, DC." Br." The rhizome and roots or species of the section Odostemon Rafinesque of the genus Berberis Linne (Fam. Berberidaceae), without the presence of more than 5 per cent. of the overground parts of the plant or other foreign matter. Berberis without the bark should be rejected." N. F.

Oregon grape root; Nepaul Barberry, Barberry; Epine-vinette, Vinettier, Ecorce de Racine de Berberides, Fr.; Sauerach, Gemeiner Sauerdorn, Berberitze, Berberitzen- (Sauerach-) Wurzelrinde, G,; Berbero, It., Sp.

The genus Berberis (Fam. Berberidaceae) is a large one, comprising shrubs or trees which are widely distributed throughout temperate regions and in the mountains of the tropics. There are three well-defined medicinal groups:

(1) The Rocky Mountain group, including Berberis Aquifolium, which yields the Oregon Grape Root.

(2) The Asiatic group, which includes B. aristata DC., a shrub indigenous to India and Ceylon, and is recognized by the British Pharmacopoeia.

(3) The European group, which includes the common Barberry (B. vulgaris L.., which is naturalized in New England. According to Dragendorff (Die Heilpflanzen), about forty different species of berberis have been used in medicine.

Berberis aristata, which furnishes the Berberis of the British Pharmacopoeia, is a shrub indigenous to the temperate Himalayas, extending from Bhutan to Kanawar, the Nilgiri Hills, Ceylon. It is erect and branching, the leaves being evergreen, obovate or oblong entire, sometimes possessing spinose teeth. The flowers are yellow and occur in compound, often corymbose racemes. The stigmas are distinguished by being small and subglobose. The berries are few-seeded and taper into a short style. Several varieties of this species are recognized, viz., floribunda and micrantha. The type B. aristata closely resembles B. asiatica Roxb., B. Lycium Royle and B. vulgaris L., and consequently are mistaken throughout India. The same vernacular names are frequently applied to each of these plants and the same medicinal properties attributed to all.

The berberis of the British Pharmacopoeia occurs "in undulating pieces from two and a half to five centimetres in diameter. Cork orange-brown, removed in places showing the subjacent darker brown cortex; marked with slightly wavy longitudinal striae and occasional shallow transverse depressions. Transverse section shows a narrow brown cork; a broad, dark brown bast traversed by conspicuous yellow medullary rays; a bright yellow wood composed of numerous narrow vascular rays, containing many vessels, separated by narrow paler medullary rays. Slight odor; taste bitter." Br.

For a description of the bark of B. aristata DC., by Hartwick, see Ph. Rev., 1896, 232.

"Cylindrical, more or less knotty, strongly branched, usually cut into pieces of varying length and up to 45 mm. in diameter; externally light yellowish-brown, longitudinally wrinkled and short scaly; fracture hard and tough; bark 1 mm. in thickness, easily separable into layers; wood yellow, the color more pronounced upon wetting, distinctly radiate, and showing rings of growth; pith of rhizome small, sometimes ex-central. Slightly odorous; taste distinctive, very bitter; on chewing it tinges the saliva yellow. The powder is yellowish-brown; composed chiefly of fragments of wood fibers associated with a few tracheae and medullary rays; wood fibers yellowish, scarcely giving any reaction with phloroglucinol T.S. and hydrochloric acid, and with large, simple, transverse pores; trachea chiefly with bordered pores, occasionally reticulate; medullary rays one to twelve cells wide, and in very long rows; starch grains simple or two- to three-compound, the individual grains being irregularly spherical, from 0.003 to 0.01 mm. in diameter, and occasionally larger. Berberis yields not more than 5 per cent. of ash." N. F.

The N. F. IV recognizes, under the title Berberis, "the rhizome and roots of species of the section Odostemon Rafinesque, of the genus Berberis." This section corresponds to the genus Mahonia of Nuttall, and includes B. Aquifolium and B. Nervosa.

Berberis Aquifolium Pursh., Berberis, U. S. VIII, Oregon Grape Root, Rocky Mountain Grape, California Barberry, Holly-leaf Barberry, Trailing Mahonia.

The Oregon grape is a tall shrub, about six to seven feet high, with evergreen, coriaceous, bright and shining leaves, and having numerous small, yellowish-green flowers in the early Spring, and later clusters of purple berries containing an acid pulp. It is a native in woods from Colorado to the Pacific Ocean, especially abundant in Oregon and Northern California. The root, which was formerly official, occurs in pieces about a foot long, one-fourth of an inch thick, of a brownish exterior, but yellowish within, yielding a bright lemon-colored bitter powder. The rhizome was officially described as "in more or less knotty irregular pieces of varying length and from 3 to 20 Mm. in diameter; bark from 1/2 to 2 Mm. thick; wood yellowish, distinctly radiate with narrow medullary rays, hard and tough; rhizome with a small pith; odor distinct; taste strongly bitter. Pieces without the bark should be rejected." U. S. VIII.

Rusby believes that a large part of the berberis collected in Oregon is obtained from B. Nervosa. (Ph. Era, 1909, p. 633.)

Nepaul Barberry—Berberis vulgaris L. (Barberry). B. vulgaris is a native of Europe, but grows wild in waste ground in the eastern parts of New England, and is sometimes cultivated in gardens on account of its berries. It is a spreading shrub, from four to six feet or more in height, with thorny branches, a light gray bark and a fine yellow wood.

The berries of B. vulgaris, which grow in loose bunches, are oblong and of a red color, have a grateful, sour, astringent taste, and contain malic and citric acids. They are refrigerant, astringent, and antiscorbutic, and are used in Europe, in the form of drink, in febrile diseases and diarrheas. An agreeable syrup is prepared from the juice, and the berries are sometimes preserved for the table.

The bark of the root of B. vulgaris L. was formerly included in the secondary list of the U. S. Pharmacopoeia, under the name of Berberis. The root and inner bark have been used for dyeing yellow. The bark of the root is grayish on the outside, yellow within, very bitter, and stains the saliva when chewed. Brandes found in 100 parts of the root 6.63 of bitter, yellow extractive (impure berberine), 1.55 of brown coloring matter, 0.35 of gum, 0.20 of starch, 0.10 of cerin, 0.07 of stearin, 0.03 of chlorophyll, 0.55 of a sub-resin, 55.40 of lignin, and 35.00 of water.

Lycium of the ancients, highly valued as a local application in affections of the eye and eyelids, and used for various other purposes, is supposed to be the medicine still used in India for the same affections, under the name of rusot or ruswut. According to Royle, extracts from various species of berberis enter into this substance, which, combined with opium and alum, was much used in ophthalmia. (P. J., Dec., 1865.)

Algerita Root, which has been used by Mexicans and old settlers in Western Texas, is derived from Berberis trifoliatus Moricand [Odostemon trifoliatus (Moric.) Heller], The shrub grows in Western Texas and New Mexico and extends into Mexico. The root contains, according to Hart (A. J. P., 1916, p. 301) 1.3 per cent. of berberine and 0.1 per cent. of associated alkaloids. Hydrastine is absent. Infusions of algerita root are used for eye sores, while chewing the roots is considered reliable as a corrective for sore mouths. Injections of an infusion have been used for gonorrhea.

Hesse found in berberis root four alkaloids besides berberine (see Hydrastis), the mother liquor from berberine hydrochloride when precipitated with sodium hydroxide yielded to ether three alkaloids, a fourth, which is amorphous, remaining undissolved. One of the alkaloids in the ethereal solution crystallized from alcohol in small tabular crystals, and is named by the author berbamine. It has the composition C18H19NO3+2H2O. (Ber. d. Chem. Ges., 19, 3190.) To a second alkaloid the name of oxyacanthine has been applied.

For additional information concerning the constituents of berberis berries and root, see U. S. D., 19th ed., p. 1412.

B. aquifolium contains the alkaloids berberine, C20H17NO4; oxyacanthine, C18H19NO3; and berbamine, C18H19NO3, together with phytosterin, gum, fat, resin and wax. Berberine and oxyacanthine were isolated by H. B. Parsons (N. R., 1882, 83), the percentage of the former is said to be 2.35 and of the latter 2.82. Jungk and Stubbe investigated the alkaloids from berberis, and found that the three alkaloids in B. aquifolium are identical with those found in B. vulgaris. Rudel examined and described these alkaloids. (J. C. S., 1892, 641.) Gordin and Merrell (Proc. A. Ph. A., 1901, 228) objected to the method of Gaze (Chem. Ch., 1890, 590) for making berberine from acetone-berberine.

Uses.—The various species of Berberis appear to have similar medical properties. The alkaloid berberine is physiologically very feeble. (See Hydrastis.) Antiperiodic properties have been attributed to it, and T. Lascarato (La Grece medicate, 1899, No. 2) affirms that it has a specific action upon the spleen which renders it very valuable in the treatment of malarial splenic enlargement, and that it is so powerful in producing contraction that when the spleen is softened large doses may produce splenic rupture, with fatal hemorrhage. The crude drug probably has no real medicinal effect, except that of a bitter tonic and mild laxative. It is by some believed to have an especial tendency towards the liver and hence is used in jaundice and chronic hepatitis. It is also stated to have alterative powers and has been employed in syphilis and scrofula.

Off. Prep.—Tinctura Berberidis, Br.; Fluidextractum Berberidis, N. F.


The Dispensatory of the United States of America, 1918, was edited by Joseph P. Remington, Horatio C. Wood and others.



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