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Berberis vulgaris - L.

Common Name European Barberry, Common barberry
Family Berberidaceae
USDA hardiness 3-7
Known Hazards Bark in doses of 4 mg or more; stupor, nosebleeds, vomiting, diarrhoea and kidney irritation. Contraindicated during pregnancy as abortion risk[301].
Habitats Light deciduous woodland, hedges, roadsides, clearings etc, preferring a sunny position and a chalky soil[9, 268].
Range Barberry Coast. Naturalized, or possibly native, in Britain[17].
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Berberis vulgaris European Barberry, Common barberry

Berberis vulgaris European Barberry, Common barberry


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Berberis vulgaris is a deciduous Shrub growing to 3 m (9ft) by 2 m (6ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 3 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf from March to November, in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from September to October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Berberis abortiva, Berberis acida, Berberis alba, Berberis bigelovii, Berberis globularis

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Hedge;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Leaves  Shoots
Edible Uses: Condiment  Tea

Fruit - raw or cooked[2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 95, 183]. Rich in vitamin C[268], the fruit has a very acid flavour and is mainly used in preserves[100], though children and some adults seem to like it raw when it is fully ripe[K]. A refreshing lemon-like drink can be made from the fruit[183]. The fruits are about 10mm long[200]. Young leaves - used as a flavouring or as an acid nibble[177, 183]. They can be used in much the same way as sorrel (Rumex acetosa)[9]. The dried young leaves and shoot tips make a refreshing tea[9, 183].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antibacterial  Antidiarrhoeal  Antipruritic  Antirheumatic  Antiseptic  Antispasmodic  Appetizer  Astringent  
Cancer  Cholagogue  Diaphoretic  Diuretic  Dysentery  Expectorant  Hepatic  
Homeopathy  Laxative  Malaria  Ophthalmic  Purgative  Refrigerant  Stomachic  
TB  Tonic  Vitamin C

Barberries have long been used as a herbal remedy for the treatment of a variety of complaints. All parts of the plant can be used though the yellow root bark is the most concentrated source of active ingredients. The plant is mainly used nowadays as a tonic to the gallbladder to improve the flow of bile and ameliorate conditions such as gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice[254]. The bark and root bark are antiseptic, astringent, cholagogue, hepatic, purgative, refrigerant, stomachic and tonic[4, 7, 9, 21, 46, 165, 222]. The bark is harvested in the summer and can be dried for storing[4]. It is especially useful in cases of jaundice, general debility and biliousness[4], but should be used with caution[165]. The flowers and the stem bark are antirheumatic[218]. The roots are astringent and antiseptic[222]. They have been pulverized in a little water and used to treat mouth ulcers[213]. A tea of the roots and stems has been used to treat stomach ulcers[213]. The root bark has also been used as a purgative and treatment for diarrhoea[213] and is diaphoretic[222]. A tincture of the root bark has been used in the treatment of rheumatism, sciatica etc[222]. The root bark is a rich source of the alkaloid berberine -about 6%[240]. Berberine, universally present in rhizomes of Berberis species, has marked antibacterial effects. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery[218]. It should not be used with Glycyrrhiza species (Liquorice) because this nullifies the effects of the berberine[218]. Berberine has also shown antitumour activity[218] and is also effective in the treatment of hypersensitive eyes, inflamed lids and conjunctivitis[244]. A tea made from the fruits is antipruritic, antiseptic, appetizer, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and laxative[7, 222]. It is also used as a febrifuge[213]. The fruit, or freshly pressed juice, is used in the treatment of liver and gall bladder problems, kidney stones, menstrual pains etc[9]. The leaves are astringent and antiscorbutic[7]. A tea made from the leaves is used in the treatment of coughs[222]. The plant (probably the inner bark) is used by homeopaths as a valuable remedy for kidney and liver insufficiency[244]. Other uses include malaria, and opium and morphine withdrawal[301].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Beads  Dye  Fuel  Hedge  Hedge  Wood

Plants can be grown as a medium-size hedge in exposed positions but they cannot tolerate extreme maritime exposure[75]. They are very tolerant of trimming but can also be left untrimmed if required[K]. A good quality yellow dye is obtained from the roots, bark and stem[4, 13, 46, 100, 244]. As well as being used on cloth, it is also used to stain wood[244]. The unripe fruit is dried and used as beads[106]. Wood - soft, very hard, fine grained, yellow. Used for carving, toothpicks, mosaics etc[13, 46, 61]. It is also used as a fuel[146].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Food Forest  Hedge  Hedge

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Prefers a warm moist loamy soil but it is by no means fastidious, succeeding in thin, dry and shallow soils[11, 200]. Prefers a light rich rather dry soil according to another report[37]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Succeeds in full sun or light shade[11. 200] but requires a moist soil when grown in the shade of trees[14]. Hardy to about -35°c[184]. A very ornamental plant[11], the barberry was at one time cultivated for its edible fruit, there are several named varieties[11, 200]. 'Dulcis' the fruit of which is sweet or slightly sour[200]. 'Asperma' is a seedless form that was often used in France to make a jam[182, 183]. An alternate host of 'black-stem rust' of wheat so it has been extensively grubbed up from its habitats[3, 11, 13, 74]. Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus[1], though it usually breeds fairly true to type[80]. Can be pruned back quite severely, it resprouts well from the base[200].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, when it should germinate in late winter or early spring[78]. Seed from over-ripe fruit will take longer to germinate[78], whilst stored seed may require cold stratification and should be sown in a cold frame as early in the year as possible[80]. The seedlings are subject to damping off, so should be kept well ventilated[113]. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame. If growth is sufficient, it can be possible to plant them out into their permanent positions in the autumn, but generally it is best to leave them in the cold frame for the winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Germination averages out at about 90%[98, 113]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, preferably with a heel, October/November in a frame[78]. Suckers, removed in late autumn/early winter and planted out in situ or potted up and planted out in late spring[3, 200].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Also known as Agracejo, Barberry, Berberidis Cortex, Berberidis Fructus, Berberidis Radicis Cortex, Berberidis Radix, Berbéris Commun, Berberis jacquinii, Berberis sanguinea, Berberitze, Berberry, Berbis, Common Barberry, Épine-Vinette, Espino Cambrón, Jaundice Berry, Mountain Grape, Oregon Grape, Pipperidge, Piprage, Sauerdorn, Sow Berry, Vinettier.

Native Range

TEMPERATE ASIA: Turkey, Russian Federation-Ciscaucasia (Ciscaucasia), Armenia EUROPE: Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Russian Federation (European part), Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine (incl. Krym), Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Croatia, Italy, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, France

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Noxious Weed Information: Connecticut (common barberry) Invasive, banned. Massachusetts (common barberry, European barberry) Prohibited. Michigan (Berberis) Prohibited 1. New Hampshire (European barberry) Prohibited invasive Species.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

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Berberis aggregataSalmon BarberryShrub1.5 5-9 MLMHSNDM321
Berberis amurensis Shrub3.5 5-9  LMHSNDM222
Berberis angulosaLarge-Flowered BarberryShrub1.0 5-9  LMHSNDM321
Berberis aristataChitra, Indian Barberry or Tree TurmericShrub3.5 5-9 MLMHSNDM433
Berberis asiaticaChutro, Rasanjan (Nep); marpyashi (Newa); Daruharidra, Darbi (Sans)Shrub3.5 7-10 MLMHFSNDM432
Berberis buxifoliaMagellan BarberryShrub2.5 4-8  LMHSNDM423
Berberis calliantha Shrub0.7 6-9  LMHSNDM22 
Berberis canadensisAllegheny Barberry, American barberryShrub1.8 4-8 MLMHSNDM321
Berberis capillaris Shrub1.0 7-10  LMHSNDM221
Berberis chengii Shrub0.0 -  LMHSNDM121
Berberis chinensis Shrub0.0 5-9  LMHSNM121
Berberis chitria Shrub4.0 -  LMHSNDM221
Berberis concinna Shrub1.0 4-8  LMHSNDM221
Berberis cooperi Shrub1.5 4-8  LMHSNM321
Berberis darwiniiDarwin's Barberry, Darwin's berberisShrub3.0 7-9 MLMHSNM423
Berberis empetrifolia Shrub0.3 6-9  LMHSNDM221
Berberis everstiana Shrub1.5 4-8  LMHSNDM221
Berberis fendleriColorado BarberryShrub1.5 5-9  LMHSNDM221
Berberis flexuosa Shrub0.0 -  LMHSNDM121
Berberis gagnepainii Shrub2.4 4-8  LMHSNDM223
Berberis georgiiBarberryShrub3.0 3-7 MLMHSNDM321
Berberis heterophylla Shrub1.5 7-10  LMHSNDM121
Berberis jaeschkeana Shrub0.8 -  LMHSNDM121
Berberis koreanaKorean Barberry, BarberryShrub1.5 3-7 MLMHSNDM121
Berberis lycium Shrub3.0 5-9 MLMHSNDM331
Berberis parisepala Shrub3.0 5-9  LMHSNDM221
Berberis rariflora Shrub0.0 -  LMHSNDM221
Berberis rubrostilla Shrub1.5 5-9  LMHSNDM321
Berberis ruscifolia Shrub0.0 -  LMHSNDM221
Berberis sherriffii Shrub2.0 5-9  LMHSNDM121

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Readers comment

mat   Mon Jan 31 14:15:46 2005

Link: Barberry growing in Iran seedless barberry industry

suman naskar   Fri Apr 24 2009

show the anatomy of root bark of Berberis vulgaris

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