Tart and tangy superfood high in Vitamin C and iron taste great a sweet or savory meal. Barberry and other berberine-containing plants have been used throughout history for their medicinal properties. Chinese medicine has records of such use dating back over 3,000 years. In addition to the fact that these plants have been tried and tested over time, recent research has indeed confirmed what herbalists have been teaching for millenniaâ€”berberine has remarkable properties.
The berries of the barberry plant are traditionally used to make jams and jellies, and the plant is used to make a dye. However, its culinary use is only minor compared to its importance as a member of the herbal Materia Medica.
The medicinal actions of barberry are traditionally classified as being cholagogue, hepatic, antiemetic, bitter and laxative. Its main active constituent, berberine, has recently been the subject of much research (it is the active constituent of a number of valuable herbs, barberry and goldenseal being two important examples), and has been proven effective against a variety of ailments.
Barberry is chiefly valued as an efficient liver cleanser, due to its ability to correct liver function and promote the flow of bile. It is good for heartburn, stomach upsets, including gastritis, ulcers and ulcerative bowel conditions, and is an effective appetite stimulant. It has also been recommended for renal colic and the treatment of renal calculi, where it is claimed to allay burning and soreness.
The herb has significant antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, and has even demonstrated antiprotozoal properties, so it is an extremely valuable weapon against infection and fever. It is recommended for use against diarrhea, whether of non-specific type, such as gastroenteritis, or from an identified source such as cholera. It is also capable of inhibiting the growth of Giardia lamblia, Trichomonas vaginalis, and Entamoeba histolytica. In fact, barberry is capable of similar action to Metronidazole, a common antiprotozoal medication, but has the advantage of no side effects.
Berberine, the active constituent of barberry, inhibits Candida and other fungal growth, but does not affect beneficial bacteria such as Acidophilus and Bifidus. Barberry is particularly useful for skin infections, for which it is often taken internally, and has even been found effective against psoriasis.
It is often used against bronchial infections, as it is capable of breaking down and dispersing mucous accumulations, and controlling further secretions. It is an effective sedative, is capable of lowering blood pressure, and is an effective uterine stimulant. Barberry is also taken for gallstones and inflammation of the gallbladder. It has the ability to correct an enlarged spleen.
Barberry is useful for correcting menstrual irregularities, correcting anemia, as a treatment for vaginitis, and even as a tonic for a hangover. It is a suitable medication for gouty constitutions. It is recommended for strengthening the patient during convalescence, as it acts as an immune stimulant.
Barberry can be used to treat malaria and even Leishmaniasis, which is a protozoal infection. Nicholas Culpeper praised the barberry plant highly, and stated that the berries are just as useful as the bark. He recommended their use for the cure of ringworm, in addition to the ailments already mentioned.
Because it is capable of increasing blood supply, barberry may be of use to those suffering from ventricular heart defects. Berberine is used in China to treat white blood cell depression when caused by chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
Barberries are the fruits of a shrub of which many species grow wild throughout the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and America. A closely related genus, Mahonia, is a familiar ornamental shrub in western countries; but it, too, has a wide distribution. Some shrubs that were formerly thought to be barberries have now been reassigned to Mahonia. All the species bear fruits that are edible but very sour. The Berberis berries are generally red, but vary from coral to deep crimson, and almost black. B. vulgaris, the common barberry of Europe and Asia, has elongated, bright red berries that hang in clusters. Mahonia berries are generally blue or bluish. Several of the species bear such names as the Oregon grape or hollygrape. Others are associated with Mexico or the US southwest. Traditional uses include preserving them in syrup or vinegar to sharpen their flavour and making them into jams and jellies. The French "confiture d'Ã©pinevinette" is made from a seedless variety of B. vulgaris, and is a specialty of Rouen and Dijon. In India, some species are sun-dried to make sour currants or "raisins", which are eaten as a dessert.
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