CLASSIFICATION Berberis belongs to the family Berberidaceae, a widespread family comprising 18 genera of trees, shrubs [mostly], and herbs, widespread in north temperate regions, South America, and mountainous regions in the tropics. The family is in homoeopathy represented by four members: Berberis vulgaris, Berberis aquifolium [= Mahonia aquifolia], Caulophyllum, and Podophyllum.
DISTRIBUTION The genus Berberis comprises about 500 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs with yellow wood, spiny branches and simple leaves. The genus may be divided into two groups: the yellow-flowered Asiatic species and the orange-flowered South American species. Yellow, red or blue berries follow the flowers. Many species are cultivated as ornamentals, esp. as hedging
plants. Because the common barberry is an intermediate host of the black rust fungus [Puccinia] of cereals, it has been systematically eradicated in agricultural areas. Berberis vulgaris is found among rocks and in hard, gravely soils.
FEATURES Mostly shrubs with long-shoot leaves and short-shoot leaves, the tissues of Berberidaceae commonly are coloured yellow with berberine. They are commonly heterophyllous [having different kinds of foliage leaves]. The long-shoot leaves are often spiny. In Berberis spines replace them. The spines are sometimes divided into several parts. They are not prickles like those of the rose, for they are regularly arranged over the stem, and will not break off by a slight pressure sideways; nor spines like those of the hawthorn [Crataegus], for in the hawthorn the spines originate in the bosom of the leaves, but in the barberry the leaves originate in the bosom of the spines. These parts are a curious state of the leaf. They are the first kind of leaf that the barberry produces when it shoots forth from the bud; but immediately after, or perhaps at the same moment with, their production, other perfectly formed leaves break out from their axils, and thus at nearly the same instant, the branches are covered with spines for their defense, and with leaves for their adornment. Having both male and female reproductive parts in the same flower [hermaphrodite], Berberidaceae are adapted to pollination by insects. Although the hermaphrodite arrangement lends itself to self pollination, this family has developed an intricately specialized pollination mechanism in which the stamens spring violently upwards when their irritable bases are touched, thus showering pollen all over the intruders.
NAME It derives its name from berberys, the Arabic name for the fruit. Etymologically, the common name barberry is not connected with berry. It is adopted from the Arabian barbaris, from Barbary, the country of the Berbers, in North Africa. In Italy the plant bears the name of Holy Thorn, because it is thought to have formed part of the crown of thorns made for our Saviour. The French name, Epine vinette, means 'acid thorn'. In both Jewish and Christian traditions, thorns conjure empty uncultivated soil; hence it was denoted as 'a land of thorns and thistles'. Since thorns stood for unploughed virgin soil, the crown of thorns symbolized a woman's virginity as it did the virginity of the soil.
CONSTITUENTS Berberine, the chief alkaloid of Berberis, is found in several other plants, e.g. Hydrastis, Coptis [Goldthread], Phellodendron amurense [Amur Cork Tree], Argemone mexicana [Prickly Poppy], Chelidonium majus, and Mahonia aquifolia [Oregon grape]. It is toxic and has antibacterial, antimalarial, and antipyretic properties. Berberine is used extensively in Japan and Southeast Asia to control tropical diarrhoea and certain eye diseases. Many of the alkaloids of Berberis are thought to inhibit cancer. A decoction of the bark or berries has been found useful as a wash in aphthous sore mouth and in chromic ophthalmia.
USES One to two meters in height, Berberis vulgaris provides wood - very hard but fine grained, therefore suitable for such objects as toothpicks, mosaic pieces and turnery -, dyestuff [for wool, cotton, flax, and leather] and edible berries. Once cultivated for their supposedly antiseptic properties, the rather acid fruits were made into jellies and preserves. The leaves were also eaten in a sour sauce. The shrub is distributed throughout Europe, Turkey, the eastern United States, and naturalized in the British Isles.
EFFECTS An infusion of the root promotes the secretion of bile and is thus beneficial in liver disorders. It also helps to dilate blood vessels and so can help to lower blood pressure. The bark of the root has a laxative effect.
BERBERINE "Perhaps the most celebrated of berberine's effects has been its antibiotic activity. Berberine exhibits a broad spectrum of antibiotic activity. Berberine has shown antibiotic activity against bacteria, protozoa, and fungi, including Staphylococcus species, Streptomyces species, Chlamydia species, Corynebacterium diphtheria, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholerae, Diplococcus pneumoniae, Pseudomonas species, Shigella dysenteriae, Entamoeba histolytica, Trichomonas vaginalis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae and N. meningitidis, Treponema pallidum, Giardia lamblia, Leishmania donovani, and Candida albicans. Its action against some of these pathogens is actually stronger than that of antibiotics commonly used in the treatment of diseases these pathogens cause. ... Berberine has also shown to increase the blood supply to the spleen. The combined effect of improving blood supply to the spleen and increasing macrophage activity translates into improved filtration of the blood and is consistent with the historical use of berberine-containing plants as 'blood purifiers'. ... Berberine has produced an antipyretic effect three times as potent as that of aspirin in rats. However, while aspirin suppresses fever through its action on prostaglandins, berberine appears to lower fever by enhancing the immune system's ability to handle fever-producing compounds produced by micro-organisms. ... Berberine exhibits potent anticancer activity directly by killing tumour cells and indirectly via stimulating white blood cells. ... Berberine has shown significant success in the treatment of acute diarrhoea in several clinical studies. It has been found effective against diarrhoeas caused by Escherichia coli [traveller's diarrhoea], Shigella dysenteriae [shigellosis], Salmonella paratyphi [food poisoning], Klebsiella, Giardia lamblia [giardiasis], and Vibrio cholerae [cholera]. It appears that berberine is effective in treating the majority of common gastro-intestinal infections. ... Another alkaloid found in berberine-containing plants, berbamine, has been used in China since 1972 in the treatment of depressed white blood cell counts due to chemotherapy and/or radiation."1
FOLKLORE Barberry is the birthday flower for 10 April, and signifies ill temper and sourness. Astrologically it is assigned to Mars.
PROVINGS ••  Hesse - 10 provers [7 females, 3 males], 1834; method: three doses of infusion and powdered bark of the root; also 'repeated doses of the 6th potency'; one prover took a drop of the 5th potency and another prover took one dose of the 30th.
••  Bayr - 45 provers, 1982; method: double-blind, placebo-controlled; 3 daily doses of 5 drops of 3x or 30x for 3 weeks.
••  König and Santos - 14 persons [10 females, 4 males], 1993; double-blind, placebo-controlled, daily doses of 30c - to be stopped when reaction occurred and to be resumed when reaction ceased; observation period of 6-8 weeks, with special attention to dreams.
 Murray, The Healing Power of Herbs.
Urinary and digestive tract [KIDNEYS; liver; bladder; ureters]. Lumbar region [hips]. Joints. Uterus. Spermatic cords. * Left side. Right to left.
Worse: Motion [jarring; stepping hard; rising from sitting]. Fatigue. Urinating.
Better: Rest. Motion [pains].
The tendency of the pains going from right to left, observed in Bayr's proving, plus the affinity for gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidneys, and lumbar region, make Lycopodium obviously one of the first remedies to compare with Berberis. "An occasional dose of Lycopodium helped the action of Berberis", Clarke observed. Both remedies have many symptoms in common; among them some peculiar ones: Confusion of mind on waking. Irritability on waking. Heat of head after eating. Bubbling noises in ears. Nasal catarrh extending to frontal sinuses. Eructations alternating with yawning. Bubbling sensation in inguinal region. Bubbling sensation in renal region. Dryness of vagina after menses. In addition, during the proving by Bayr an afternoon aggravation was observed, in particular in regard to the throat symptoms, which got worse or started around 3 p.m. The main difference seems to lie in the sensation of enlargement / swelling. In Berberis this is felt on the physical level in the head, the throat, and the breasts. But, whilst Lycopodium puts on a front of greatness [inflation of ego], Berberis experiences his surroundings as enlarged. Lycopodium enlarges, magnifies himself; Berberis enlarges, blows up his surroundings.
M Thinking difficult.
• "During mental work, external occurrences easily cause disturbance, usually unnoticed; he easily loses the connection, becomes fretful, and must cease work." [Allen]
• "Remarkable melancholy and disinclination to speak, which she can in no way overcome, with quiet, not thoughtful, sensual longing." [Allen]
M Objects seem enlarged [in the twilight].
• "In the twilight some children and dogs appeared twice as large as natural." [Allen]
c A similar symptom occurred in one of Bayr's provers.
• "Before falling asleep, saw faces with distorted mouths; also had the feeling that the bedroom was much bigger."*
[Compare: feeling as if head were becoming larger.]
During daytime, the same prover didn't recognize several friends, believing them to be strangers.
M Hidden wounds.
• "The thorns of the barberry plant were considered to be the thorns that Jesus wore on his head. To me this is symbolic of situations where Berberis is needed, where there are hidden wounds we are unwilling to look at. ... We all contain separate personalities within us. But in the case where there has been severe physical or sexual abuse [as there is in all multiple personality disorder patients] the split becomes too great and normal conscious activities can coalesce under the direction of unconscious aspects of the subpersonalities. Case Number 1 led me to examine the cases where I had prescribed Berberis, particularly in cases of chronic vaginitis and urinary tract infections. As I discovered that many of these cases had histories of sexual abuse, I came to the conclusion that these physical symptoms may be acting as a defense mechanism for the emotional wounds of the patient. The essence of the wound in Berberis is a secret that remains hidden to the patients. The medicine is sycotic, combining the elements of urogenital inflammation, suppression of emotions, and secretiveness. It lies somewhere between the symptomatologies of Thuja and Staphisagria. While in Staphisagria the anger lies close to the surface, in Berberis the origins are often no longer accessible to the conscious mind. They lie quiescent, coalesced in a conflict that creates fatigue, withdrawal, and psychosomatic expressions of pain. The pain itself is not clear. It wanders, radiating in different directions from the kidneys, liver, joints, and sexual organs. ... Interestingly, Dr. Margery Blackie mentions it as being useful in 'contradictory, changeable personalities'."1
c The apparent element of the way of the Cross can be taken one step further. The pains of Berberis in the metacarpal and metatarsal bones are as if there were a nail thrust into them.
M Mother - woman.
• "Berberis fits women who are in conflict between being mother and woman. To be a woman and at the same time a sexual being seems incompatible. A mother who lives her sexuality is dirty? In this situation being a woman must be denied. Perhaps as a compensation the social position is rated extremely high. ... Which patients could benefit of Berberis? We think of women who feel not being desired by their partners during or after a pregnancy. Or, women who do not feel sensually or sexually after a pregnancy or since becoming mother. It might well be that a Berberis patient complains of being disregarded or feeling neglected as a woman and sexual being. Even sexual abuse must be considered. It seems worthwhile to investigate the Berberis theme in the case of patient with myoma, patients [male and female?] with recurrent infections of the bladder, tendency to stones, sciatica, lumbago, chronic skin eruptions [acne, psoriasis]. ... We propose to enter Berberis in the repertory - in the form of preliminary rubrics until clinical verification - as follows: Ailments from sexual abuse; Delusion she or her mother has been abused; Delusion of being vulnerable as a woman; Disgust of being a woman; Delusion mother is a whore; Ambition, social position. Associated feelings include disgust, depreciation, estrangement, humiliation."2
G Many rapidly changing or alternating symptoms; shooting outward, as in urethra, toes, etc.
• "Symptoms are apt to alternate rapidly, e.g. a thirsty feverish condition can change quickly into a thirstless prostration, a voracious appetite can suddenly give way to complete anorexia, acute polyuria can alternate with oliguria." [Gibson]
G Great chilliness.
Suffering parts chilly.
Chill as if in bones.
Chills as from cold water [over back].
• "Chilliness or disagreeable sensitiveness to cold occurred in 10 provers. Five provers experienced increased warmth without perspiration; four others had increased warmth with perspiration."*
• "Severe thirst wakes her several times at night."
• "Increased thirst with dry mouth, esp. in the afternoon, in several persons." [Allen]
• "Four provers had increased thirst; two of them wanted cold drinks."*
G Sleep unrefreshing.
• "In the morning when waking he often doesn't feel refreshed, but weary in body and mind." [Allen]
• "At night a condition between sleeping and waking; in which she is tormented with a system of education, which at times assumes the form of a tree, at another some other wonderful form; she tries in vain to get rid of the image, arouses from slumber and opens the eyes and becomes very fretful about it." [Allen]
• "Difficult waking in the morning, when she cannot rightly recollect, cannot collect her thoughts, and must exert all her power to get awake." [Allen]
Waking about 2 to 4 a.m.
• "He wakes frequently and very easily about 2 to 4 o'clock, cannot sleep again in spite of the fact that he is still very tired, or he falls asleep again, but also wakes again; with tension in the head, rush of blood to it and excitement." [Allen]
• "Five provers woke up at 2, 3 or 4 a.m. "*
• "Diminished sexual desire in both sexes; the ejaculation of semen during coition is usually too soon, and the desire is weak and passes soon away; in women orgasm is delayed, sometimes associated with cutting or sticking pain." [Allen]
• "Complete want of pleasurable sensation during coition." [Hering]
Coition is painful. After coition, weakness of parts.
c Four of Bayr's provers noticed an increased sexual desire. In one female prover there was an aversion to sex.
G RADIATING PAINS; from one point; lower spine, etc.
G Pains last a moment and pass away [twinges of pain].
Sudden stitches; as if from a nail or like a sting of an insect.
G NUMBNESS externally.
Insensitive to extreme heat or cold.
G GURGLING / BUBBLING sensation.
As if water were coming up through the skin.
G Sensation of coldness on isolated spots.
As if from cold metal, cold substances, or as if cold drops were sprinkled.
• "A feeling in the eyes as if there were two drops of cold water between the margins of the lids, or between the lids and the eyeballs."
• "A feeling as if cold drops of rain spattered in the face on going from the house into the open air."
• "Sensation as if cold drops of rain fell on back of hand when she went from house into open air."
• "A sensation as if cold water were spattered on the skin at a small spot below the left calf." [Allen]
G DRY mucous membranes; mouth, vagina, etc.
Yet perspires easily.
• "Everything excites sweating." [Boger]
• "Nearly every Berberis patient perspires after midnight." [Blackie]
G DIRTY-GREY face, gums, faeces, etc.
Grey or brown mucus instead of menses.
Dirty-grey circles around eyes. [Eyes seem to lie deep.]
• "Inner side of the upper lip shows a bluish grey discolouration, together with bluish or red spots in the corners of the mouth." [Charette]
G Pains go from right to left side.*
[This occurred five times during Bayr's proving. Pain in throat, 2 provers; pain in nipples before menses, first in right nipple, then in left, 1 prover; lumbar backache, 1 prover; pain in knees, 1 prover]
P Feeling as if head were becoming larger.
[This symptom occurred in the proving of both Hesse and Bayr. In the latter it was accompanied by vertigo.]
P Violent urging to urinate and burning pain [during last drops].
And WIDELY EXTENDING PAIN to back, hips and legs.
P Various painful sensations in region of KIDNEYS and LOINS: "bubbling", boiling water, burning and painful sensitiveness.
Pain < least motion, stepping hard, jumping, jarring, etc.
And Numbness, stiffness, weakness and sensitiveness to pressure of kidneys and loins.
P Lumbago with PAIN EXTENDING DOWN LEGS and red sediment in urine.
Rising from a seat almost impossible, has to support back with hands.
P Pain in lumbar region extending over hips to thighs [posterior parts].
And Stiffness and lameness.
Problems with rising from sitting.
P Pain in the balls of the feet on stepping and standing.
No pain when putting most of the weight on the heels.
P - Brown skin pigmentations.
• "Berberis comes in useful once in a while in the field of dermatology. A characteristic symptom found in Berberis eruptions is that the eruptions leave a sort of brownish spots of pigmentation after their disappearance. A case was reported where acne of the face was characterised by this typical pigmentation after the disappearance. It has papulo-pustular type of eruptions. The eruptions are surrounded by a red areola. On drying up these eruptions leave a brownish stain. The favourite locations for the Berberis eruptions are near about anus, wrists, hands and the lower extremities. The itching is worse by scratching, warmth, rubbing and walking. The eruptions are better by cold applications. It is usually overlooked in the treatment of skin eruptions."3
* Bayr, Eine Prüfung von Berberis vulgaris D3 und D30; Allgemeine Hom. Zeitung, 1983 Heft 5.
 Lange, Two cases of sexual abuse - one with multiple personalities; IFH 1992.  Santos and König, Dream Proving of Berberis, HL 2/94.  Kishore, A side-light on Berberis vulgaris; Zeitschrift für Klassische Homöopathie, 1985 Heft 5.
Ailments from quarrelling . Difficult concentration if interrupted [1; Mez.]. Courageous, experiences a certain ill will, a spirit of intrepidity [1A]. Desires death during menses [1/1]. Dulness after sound sleep . Ennui during menses [1/1]. Excitement on waking at night . Hurry while eating . Irritability before menses , during menses , after menses .
When lying, > moving arms [1K]. From vertex .
Enlarged sensation , during vertigo [1B]. Pain, from exertion of body , at beginning of menses , < motion of arms , sudden , wandering . Sensation of a skullcap .
Feeling of heat in lids [1K].
Colours, objects seem dark . Objects seem large , in twilight [2/1].
Catarrh, extending to antrum , to frontal sinuses . Discharge, offensive, burnt [1/1], pungent [1/1]. Obstruction, alternating sides [1K].
Sensation of swelling around both eyes [1B].
Saliva like cotton , soapy , viscid > eating [1/1]. Taste, burnt, in morning [1/1], sour after drinking .
Pain, in afternoon, 3 p.m. [1B], > drinking [1B], on speaking . Scratching sensation > drinking [1B].
Nausea alternating with hunger , > eating [1B], from exertion of vision [1K], > looking steadily [1K]. Pain after cold drinks [1B].
Fulness, flatulence, after eating, > red wine [1B].
Pain, burning during menses .
Pain during urinating, after a few drops pass . Frequent urging < slightest motion .
Pain, at beginning of menses , during menses , < motion , < pressure , radiating , > standing [1/1]. Feeling of weariness in renal region .
Pain, burning after coition , during ejaculation , > urination .
Coition, enjoyment absent , enjoyment diminished .
Coition, aversion after menses , enjoyment absent , painful . Dryness vagina , after menses . Insensibility of vagina during coition . Itching > lying [1/1], < sitting [1/1], < walking . Menses, clotted, offensive .
Pain in nipples before menses [1B], first in right nipple, then in left [1B].
Eruptions, boils in groups [1/1]. Numbness cervical region , sacrum , coccyx . Pain, > flatus , on rising from sitting .
Cramps in sole of foot on hanging foot down [1/1]. Discolouration, upper limbs, marbled spots [1/1], back of hands, petechiae [1/1]. Numbness upper limbs when hanging down [1/1].
Waking from perspiration , from thirst .
Odour of urine .
* Repertory additions. A = Allen; B = Bayr; K = König and Santos.
[König and Santos, Berberis, Rhododendron, Convallaria: Traumgeschehen und Psychodynamik Dreier Arzneiprüfungen (1992-94); Göttingen 1997.]
Aversion: : Milk [K].
Desire: : Salt [K].
Worse: : Farinaceous. : Alcohol.