Barberry bushes can be both a blessing and a curse. Used as an ornamental plant and as a healing herb, some types of the barberry can threaten farmers. It is a deciduous evergreen native to subtropical and temperate regions and has thorny stems with berries that grow in clusters in pairs or singly.
There are more than 500 species of barberry bushes. They are typically a low-growing, spiny shrub with yellow or gray wood and have bright yellow flowers that bloom in late spring. The bark and root of the shrub is used for medicinal purposes. Its berry, stem and root bark contain alkaloids, a naturally occurring chemical compound which, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, may be effective at killing bacteria and parasites.
Barberry has been used medicinally since ancient Egypt. Indian folk medicine has used it to reduce fever, treat diarrhea and stomach pains, and to improve appetite. In Iran it is used to treat gallbladder disease and heartburn. Barberry contains the chemical berberine, which inhibits the growth of bacteria.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, when using barberry medicinally in conjunction with certain medications, such as antibiotics and blood thinners, it may decrease the effectiveness of those medications. It might increase the effects of antihistamines, blood pressure medication, Celebrex and diuretics. It is advised not to take barberry with diabetes medication.
The two most common types of barberry bushes in the United States are the Japanese barberry and the common barberry. Both bushes have red leaves and in the autumn grow a bright red berry fruit. The common barberry is used for landscaping and grows wild in the eastern part of the United States. The Japanese barberry is a popular garden plant, and unlike the common barberry, which grows its berries in clusters, the Japanese barberry grows its berries in pairs or singly.
The common barberry bush is highly susceptible to black stem rust, which is a fungus disease. Black stem rust is a disease that can be devastating to wheat. Because of this, barberry bushes should never be planted in wheat-growing regions. The disease can easily travel from the barberry bush to the wheat, and destroy a field.
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