Barberry, that common thorny shrub that forms impenetrable thickets, is a gift to us from the Japanese…and the Europeans, along with our homegrown variety.
Japanese barberry, pictured here, has an interesting history. It was originally promoted as an alternative to common barberry. Common barberry, a native plant, was used by settlers as hedgerows and to make dye and jam, but carried black stem grain rust, which caused millions of dollars in damage to cereal crops early in the 20th century.
That problem was solved but Japanese barberry is such an aggressive invader that is forms dense stands that shade out native vegetation. And it spreads rapidly since birds, especially turkey and grouse, eat the fruit, spreading the seeds. It raises soil pH and reduces the amount of leaf litter on the ground. It is particularly dangerous to open and second-growth forests. White-tail deer avoid browsing the shrub, giving the plant an advantage over native species.
But it has its good points. Along with the fact that you’ll see it fronting the sidewalks of many houses in the area, it has a long and storied medical history.
Barberries have been used as a medicine since before the birth of Christ. It was used in ancient Egypt. Pharaohs and their queens are said to have taken it along with Fennel seeds to ward off plague. It is still used in the country as a cure for fevers arising from pestilence.
Barberry contains several active substances like Isoquinoline which are quite effective in fighting off bacterial attacks nd infection. It is also used to cure problems ranging from diarrhea to skin infections, inflammatory diseases, liver ailments and even cardiovasculara problems by widening the blood vessels of the body and reducing high blood pressure.
It is easy to grow, in fact, far too easy.
This shrub was photographed at Frances Walter State Dam.