Barberry

Barberries hanging from the bush (Berberis sp.)
Barberry is a common ornamental shrub planted in parks and gardens. The berries are much appreciated in the Middle East for their culinary uses, though it's not easy to find good edible varieties growing wild in the British Isles.

Table of Contents

Barberry: Plant profile

Common names

Common Barberry, European Barberry, Jaundice Berry, Pipperidge, Piprage, Zereshk, Zerešk

Botanical name

Berberis vulgaris (& other Berberis spp.)

Plant family

Berberidaceae (Barberry)

Distribution

Native to Europe and Asia and found all over the world, except Antarctica and Australia. Common throughout the British Isles.

Where to find Barberries

Parks, gardens, old hedgerows and wasteland.

When to find Barberries

Berries late summer to autumn.

How to identify Barberry

Barberry is an upright deciduous shrub with spines . The leaves are rounded or spoon shaped and may be green or purple in colour. The flowers have six petals (yellow, orange or red) and six sepals and grow singly or in racemes. The fruit is small and oblong,, shiny red in colour and contains seeds. .

Barberry lookalikes

There are other Barberry species (Berberis sp.). Most of them with green leaves, but also purple ones.

Barberry leaves (Berberis sp.)

All about Barberry

Barberry is a popular hedging plant, with beautiful yellow flowers and jewel-like scarlet berries that persist on the shrub throughout the winter.

There are over 500 species of Berberis and all of them are edible. Gardeners tend to favour the use of Japanese Barberry or Thumberg’s Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), which has tough seeds and a bitter flavour. However, Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and the seedless Iranian Barberry (Berberis integerrima) are the most palatable.

Medicinal properties of Barberry

Berries are rich in vitamin C and K as well as many antioxidants.

Though there is ongoing research, berberine contained in the roots and stems seems to slightly reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. It also may improve cholesterol levels and it’s used for the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome or (PCOS).

Culinary uses and recipes with Barberry

The berries are pleasantly tart and make an excellent jelly due to the high pectin content.

In southwestern Asia and especially Iran, the berries are much appreciated. Barberries are added as flavouring for soup, stew and rice (zereshk-polo). It’s also a common stuffing ingredient for chicken.

The berries can be dried or candied for longer shelf-life and used as a substitute of cranberries.

Barberry in flower (Berberis sp.)

Safe foraging of Barberry

Care should be taken when collecting the berries, because the shrub has long sharp thorns.

Plants containing berberine should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Ecological importance of Barberry

Small birds eat the berries.

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Alvaro Docio

Alvaro Docio

I am the person behind British Local Food. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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