Barberry, which is also called Oregon grape root, is derived from Mahonia Aquifolium, a small evergreen that grows wild on mountains in the Pacific Northwest. Early settlers first learned of the therapeutic use of Barberry from native American Indians who made a bitter brew from the yellow root or rhizome of this small shrub. Used in small doses Barberry tonic was believed to be an effective treatment for heartburn, stomach upset, ulcers, and to stimulate appetite.
Current herbal literature commonly recommends barberry tincture as a treatment for liver problems such as hepatitis and jaundice. It is also considered effective in lowering blood pressure, reducing heart rate and respiration, reducing bronchial constriction, and as a palative for menstrual irregularities. It is also used as a topical antiseptic.
Researchers studying Barberry have determined that does contains a number of physiologically active alkaloids, chief among them berberine, berbamine, and oxyacanthine. Berberine has been found to exhibit some antibacterial activity, accounting for its traditional uses as an antiseptic when applied to the skin. Berberine is also known to possess sedative qualities, and can act to lower blood pressure and stimulate the uterus.