Berberis Vulgaris. Barberry, Berberry.

Botanical name: 

Description: Natural Order, Berberidaceae. Genus BERBERIS: Hardy shrub, five to seven feet; branches covered with a smooth gray bark, inner bark very yellow; fruit an oblong, red, sour, few-seeded berry. B. VULGARIS: Leaves small, obovate, tapering at the base, in clusters of three to ten, simple, armed with bristly serratures, reduced to triple spines on young branches. Racemes pendulous, many-flowered. Flowers small, yellow, six-petaled and six-stamened. Berries oblong, in clusters, remaining the entire winter.

This shrub is a native from Canada to Virginia, preferring rocky situations. Cultivated through New England and the Middle States as a hardy ornamental shrub. The inner bark and root are sometimes used to impart a chrome-yellow dye–which they do very effectually. They are used in medical practice, and impart their qualities to water and to diluted alcohol.

Properties and Uses: The bark is intensely bitter, rather stimulating and slightly relaxing. Its action is principally that of a tonic, improving the appetite and strength in debilitated conditions, and especially in bilious affections, and during the languor incident to spring. It exerts a distinct impression on the gall-ducts, favoring the escape of bile, always proving gently laxative, and even acting as a mild and slow cathartic in large doses. This action renders it of much value in jaundice; and in all cases where absorbed bile has depressed the strength, lowered the digestion, tinged the skin, and weakened the lumbar region. Its action on the hepatic organs makes it a good addition to alterative sirups for various affections of the skin. Some speak of it in intermittents and chronic diarrhea, but it probably deserves little attention in such connections, except for its truly beneficial effect upon the hepatic apparatus. This influence is one of the first importance in such cases; whence berberis may be employed, but not in the character of an antiperiodic or astringent. The berries form an agreeable conserve, which gives a pleasant acidity to drinks in febrile cases.

It may be given by infusion, the strength of from five to ten grains of the bark being used three times a day. The quantities usually directed are entirely too large. It is often given tinctured on hard cider, which is a popular family remedy for spring "biliousness," through New England. Dr. S. Thomson was in the habit of prescribing it in the following form: Four ounces each of berberis, populus, and prunus; crush and macerate for a few days in a gallon of cider. Dose, a large tablespoonful or more, three times a day. The article is one of the powerful agents of the Materia Medica; but its intense bitterness is an objection to it. Its bark yields the alkaloid principle, berberina.

Berberina is most readily prepared by first making an alcoholic tincture, evaporating it one-half, and adding twice its bulk of water. A soft, brown, resinous substance subsides; pour off the liquid from this, dry it at a low heat, treat with alcohol, pour off the solution from the portion that remains undissolved, and evaporate. It yields a brownish-yellow extract, soft, and soluble in alcohol. It is a valuable addition, in small quantities, to cathartic pills, imparting tone to the digestive apparatus, which is too often overlooked in such preparations. It may be used in lieu of the bark. Dose, two to five grains, three times a day.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at