Barberry is a powerful herb that has received attention lately for its ability to successfully treat a number of ailments.  Did you know that barberry is also well known as an herbal remedy for skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema?

What Is Barberry?

Barberry is a shrub.  It has gray, thorny branches and can grow to an impressive height of about 9 feet tall. Between April and June, it produces bright yellow flowers that bloom as the weather warms.  When fall arrives, drooping bunches of red berries adorn the shrub.  Barberry contains alkaloids, the most well-known being berberine.

What Is Barberry Used For?

Historically, barberry was used to treat fevers, colds, sore throats, slow digestion, jaundice and other liver diseases by Native North Americans.   Ayurvedic physicians and ancient Egyptians alike used barberry to treat dysentery.  The roots, bark, and fruit, which contain berberine, are used to make medicine to treat a variety of ailments.

 The fruit of barberry is used for the following:

  • a supplemental source of vitamin C;
  • boosts the immune system;
  • bronchial and lung discomforts;
  • constipation;
  • heartburn;
  • kidney;
  • lack of appetite;
  • liver and spleen disease;
  • spasms; to increase circulation;
  • stomach cramps; and
  • urinary tract.

The root bark of barberry is used for the following:

  • arthritis,
  • diarrhea;
  • gallbladder disease;
  • gout;
  • hemorrhoids;
  • jaundice;
  • indigestion;
  • joint pain (rheumatism);
  • kidney and urinary tract diseases;
  • liver problems;
  • malaria;
  • mid- and low-back pain; and
  • spleen disorders.

The bark, root, and root bark of barberry are used for the following:

  • blood purifier;
  • disorders of the GI tract;
  • gallbladder;
  • heart and circulatory system;
  • kidney and urinary tract;
  • liver;
  • narcotic withdrawal;
  • parasitic infection called leishmaniasis;
  • reduce fever; and
  • respiratory tract.

How Does Barberry Work?

Lab studies indicate that it is the alkaloid contained within barberry, berberine, that has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.  Berberine gives barberry the power to kill bacteria and parasites while calming inflammation in the body.  It is well established that acne is an inflammatory condition, and as such needs to be treated in a way that reduces inflammation in the body.

Barberry is a bitter plant as classified according to taste and energetics.  This means that barberry has a cooling effect on the digestive system.  It drains internal heat that shows up as inflammation, redness, and yellowish secretions on the body. Therefore, barberry is suited for treating the kind of acne that looks like red pustules filled with yellowish sebum.

Barberry’s use in treating acne has been investigated in the form of two small trials.  According to Dr. Gilbert, one randomized, controlled trial of teens with acne found that 200 milligrams of barberry extract, taken three times each day for four weeks, significantly reduced both the number and severity of acne lesions.  The control group taking a placebo did not have any significant changes.   In the other small trial, it was reported that teens and young adults suffering from mild to moderate acne experienced significantly fewer acne lesions when they drank barberry fruit juice.

Herbs maybe natural, but they can still trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications.  So is barberry safe for everyone to use?

Warnings About Barberry


Don’t give children barberry.  The alkaloid contained in barberry, berberine, can cause brain damage especially in premature babies who suffer from jaundice.  It may also make jaundice worse and interfere with liver function.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding:

Pregnant women should not take barberry.  Berberine can pass from mother to unborn child through the placenta.   It may cause uterine contractions and trigger miscarriage. Also, barberry should not be taken by women who breast-feed.  Berberine can pass from mother to infant though breast milk and may cause brain damage.


Berberine may lower blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Closely check your blood sugar if you have diabetes and use barberry.


Berberine may increase the risk of bleeding by slowing blood clotting.  For those suffering from a blood disorder or undergoing surgery, this can present a problem. Two weeks prior to a scheduled surgery, it is recommended to stop taking barberry.

Low blood pressure:

Berberine may lower blood pressure which is not good for people who already suffer from low blood pressure.

Interactions With Barberry

If you take any of the following forms of medication, talk to your doctor before taking barberry.


The effectiveness of antibiotics may decrease when taken with barberry.


The effects of antihistamines may increase when taken with barberry.

Celecoxib (Celebrex):

Celebrex may interact with barberry.

Diuretics (water pills):

The effects of diuretics may increase when taken with barberry.

Other drugs metabolized by the liver:

Barberry works on the liver.  As such, it may decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications.  This could increase the side effects of some medications.  Examples of some medications that are changed by the liver include: cyclosporin (Neoral, Sandimmune), lovastatin (Mevacor), clarithromycin (Biaxin), indinavir (Crixivan), sildenafil (Viagra), triazolam (Halcion), Cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4) substrates, and many others.

If you take any of the following forms of medication, DO NOT take barberry at all.

Anticoagulants (blood thinners):

Barberry might change the effectiveness of blood-thinning medication.

Blood pressure medication:

Barberry may increase the effects of blood pressure medication.

Medications for diabetes:

Barberry may lower blood sugar.  As a result, it can make the effects of these drugs stronger.

Barberry Dosage Amount

For those who are able to take barberry, there are generally no side effects when it is taken in its normal and appropriate doses.  However, when taken in extremely high doses, nosebleeds and vomiting have been reported.  You can find barberry in the form of fluid extracts (the extracts contain 8-12% berberine), capsules, tinctures, and topical ointments.  The dried roots can also be used to make a tea.

An herbalist or doctor can give the best advice on dosage while weighing such factors as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. Follow relevant directions and don’t take barberry for more than a week without the supervision of your doctor or herbalist.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is provided as an information resource only.  It is not to be used or relied upon for any treatment or diagnostic purposes.  This information is not intended to be patient education.  It should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.  The statements on this site have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.   This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  Please consult your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition, such as if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a mental condition.  Please read all product packaging carefully and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise, supplementation or medication program. Cosmetic products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.


Join the Conversation

My favorite part of doing these posts is engaging in the conversation they start. Each week, I ask one question. This week, it is this:

Would you take Barberry?


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Dr. Cyndi Gilbert, BA, ND, “The Essential Guide to Women’s Herbal Medicine,” pgs. 206-207