Barberry, Oregon Grape

Berberis repens – Barberry, Oregon Grape

Barberry, Oregon GrapeBerberis repens

Berberis = ber-be-ris, L. for Barbary (from an Arabic name for North Africa);

= L. for “creeping”;

Identification: This creeping, evergreen shrub is usually less than 30 cm tall with rootlets along its length. The leaves are pinnate compound, somewhat holly-like, with spiny marginal teeth. The flowers are small, yellow and borne in clusters. The black or blue-black berries are 1/3 inch in diameter.

Distribution & Habitat: These plants like to grow in the shade, mostly on hill sides and slopes from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountain Foothills.

Preparation & Uses: The berries of this plant are quite juicy, with a pleasant acidy taste. They make good pies and jellies. To make this jelly all you have to do is boil berries with an equal part (or a little less if you don t have a sweet tooth), of sugar or honey, then strain them.

Barberry is one of the most valuable herbs. It is listed as a tonic, antiseptic, mild laxative, stimulant, bitter and refrigerant. It is also a famous and valuable Indian remedy. It is probably unequalled as a corrector of liver secretions. It is an excellent tonic for delicate and weakly people (especially children), building from anemia and general malnutrition to complete recovery in just a few weeks. It regulates the digestive system, lessens the size of the spleen, and removes obstructions in the intestinal tract. Even though the roots are usually used, the leaves are also considered efficient by some authors.

The Blackfoot Indians called it Oti-to-gue and steeped the peeled dried root. They used the herb to check rectal hemorrhage, dysentery and other stomach troubles.

The bark of the root contains several alkaloids (the main one being berberine) that promote the secretion of bile. When it is used in conjunction with cayenne as a carrier, it has a superior stimulant effect on the liver. The alkaloid in the root also tends to dilate the blood vessels and thereby lowers blood pressure. Berberine has wide spectrum antibiotic activity and has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

A tincture of the root is helpful in urinary complaints, as well as herpes simplex. It is advisable to use ginger with this tincture.

Blackfoot Indians would use either fresh berries or an infusion of the roots on open boils. The berries were also often used for kidney troubles.

Externally, the infused root was applied to wounds as an antiseptic. The root was also chewed and applied for the same purpose and to relieve itching.

As a horse medicine the berries were soaked in water and the juice was given to a coughing horse. Body sores were also treated with the root as in humans.