WHAT IS COMMON BARBERRY? RASOUT: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF COMMON BARBERRY
The common barberry is native to the British Isles, most of Europe and North Africa and temperate Asia, and grows in Pakistan along with Berberis lycicum and has similar properties to it and Berberis aristata. However it has red, not blue black berries, which are oblong and slightly rounded. In Urdu it is called Rasout and Kwarai in Pashto. The Common Barberry grows to a height of about 8 to10 feet, and has a woody stem the colour of ash, the outer covering of which is shaved off and dried, either on trays in the sun outdoors or threaded and strung across a room which is airy and gets direct sunlight.
It is a sensitive plant, though not in the same way as Tickle Me or Wood Sorrel, its stamens move away from the petals and close to the pistil. When bees try to get their nectar, they trigger the mechanism and the anther strikes the stigma which releases pollen. In the UK it was common to see the Common Barberry in copses and hedges, but farmers didn’t like it because it is sometimes host to the rust fungus, and they believed that it would infect their crops, particularly wheat. It used to be cultivated for its fruit, which has a pleasant, acidic taste, and in the 16th century, Gerard tells is that its leaves were used “to season meat with and instead of salad.” Birds, pigs and horses tend to avoid it because of its acidity, but it’s a bee and butterfly plant. In this respect it is rather like tamarind or imli.
The fruit was used in sweet dishes and Rouen in France was renowned for its Confiture d’ epine vinette. The Victorian cook, Mrs. Beeton recommends the berries as garnishes “The berries arranged on bunches of nice curled parsley, make an exceedingly pretty garnish for supper dishes particularly for white meats…”
The roots, when boiled with lye make a yellow dye used in Poland for colouring leather and elsewhere for dying wool. If you chew the stem bark it will turn your saliva yellow, as does turmeric. In fact it has similar medicinal properties to turmeric (haldi). In Italy it is called Holy Thorn as it is believed that it was the Crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion. Other trees also have the same thorns on their branches and have been given similar names, for example, the hawthorn.
It has been used in medicine for at least 2,500 years in all countries where it grows, and the leaves are used to treat jaundice, and in Iran it is valued for its effects on the gallbladder. The berries contain malic acid and vitamin C and so far 22 alkaloids have been identified in these plants which are thought to be of medical importance, but they are still being investigated. So far it has been suggested that it may help with erectile dysfunctions as it has potent antioxidant properties because of the flavonoids it contains, and it is beneficial to the veins and arteries in general.
You can make a jelly with the fruit using the same quantity of sugar as fruit and as it contains pectin it doesn’t need any to be added. (See recipe for plum jam and when it has cooled a little, strain through muslin or cheesecloth into sterile glass jars.) This aids digestion and helps relieve sore throats, although a gargle made from a syrup made from the berries can be diluted and also used in this way. It contains berbamine, which has positive effects on the cardio-vascular system, and is deemed to be good for arrhythmia, angina pectoris and other heart problems. Berberine is also found in this plant and this is has anti-bacterial properties and may be helpful in boosting the functions of the immune system and could aid digestion and prevent epileptic fits and convulsions. It may also be effective against candida and inflammation in the urinary tract.
The Common barberry also regulates blood pressure and is used in Pakistan for morning sickness during pregnancy. In traditional medicine it is used on the skin to treat skin diseases such as psoriasis, and it is believed that it can help reduce the effects of aging on the brain. In homeopathy it is sometimes used for gall stones and other gall bladder problems. Like the Indian Barberry and the berberry it is also known to assist the liver and is given in cases of jaundice. The infusion of the leaves is used to relieve bronchial problems including asthma and coughs, and a tincture made from them has been used for snake bites, rheumatism and sciatica.
In Europe the powdered root bark has traditionally been used to cure dyspepsia and aid digestion, as well as to stop sickness and diarrhoea. It is thought that the daily dose for jaundice and general debility and sickness is ¼ tsp of powdered bark taken 3 or 4 times a day. The tisane from the bark or leaves may be used as an antiseptic, as can the fruit as it has astringent properties.
It can also be used in the same ways as the Indian Berberry.