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Botanical name: Berberis vulgaris


The origin of the barberry is Asia. Although it was very common earlier in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, it is less frequently seen today. It is found chiefly as a hedge or an ornamental plant, rarely growing wild. In the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia the barberry is even on the red list of endangered plants.



Barberries ripen in October.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

The barberry bush prefers dry, sandy, calcareous soil. It reaches a height of around 3 m. The thorny twigs grow like rods and are covered with a yellow-grey cortex. They have elliptical leaves 2-4 cm long. The yellow blossoms grow in clusters on the twigs and have an unpleasant odour.

The berries ripen in autumn. They are oval and red and taste sour.



About 30 mg of vitamin C are contained in 100 g of barberries. This is around one third of the recommended daily requirement (German Society for Nutrition).


Harmful substances

The leaves and cortex of the barberry bush contain the slightly toxic alkaloids berberine, oxyberberine and bervulcine. The symptoms of poisoning may be nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, light-headedness, kidney irritation, shortness of breath, nose bleed and cramps. The fruits do not contain these alkaloids, however, and can be eaten without hesitation. The blossoms are also free of alkaloids.


The bush is an intermediate host for wheat rust (puccinia), which affects the grain. When this became known in the 18th century, the barberry bush was extensively wiped out. Today it is forbidden to plant it in areas where grain is cultivated.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Like all berries, barberries should not be stored too long. They are best kept in an ample container in the refrigerator. If you want to freeze the berries, it is recommended that you freeze them first lying on a metal tray and then put them into a freezer bag. In any case, fresh berries should be further processed quickly.


Presumed effect on health

The alkaloid berberine not only has a harmful effect, but is also used for therapeutic purposes. Doses of 500 mg are well-tolerated. For cholera and amoebiasis smaller amounts (60-300 mg) are used in adults.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Barberries are used to make jam, which not only tastes excellent on bread but is also suitable for filling and topping cakes. Juice and syrup can also be made from the berries. The juice was used earlier as a substitute for lemons.


Dried barberries are a component of various fruit teas.


In oriental cuisine, rice and meat dishes with barberries are popular, as are tart desserts.


Seasoning tip

Cinnamon, pepper, mint and orange are particularly good for seasoning barberries.





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