I recently received an email alert from a local friend, Mary, informing that she had been out looking for some Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) – “it is amazing! A huge bush about 8 ft high. ... full of bright yellow hanging flowers. Don't miss it!”
Well if that isn’t a call to botanical action...! I noted from Mary’s description of the location that it should be on my running route. So putting on my trainers I headed out in some anticipation, and despite not wearing my glasses I was confident that it would be easy one to spot. Two circuits of the lane yielded nothing, as did another run past the next day having double checked the location. On the third attempt I found it – how did I miss it? I consider myself fairly observant and have an eye for new plants & flowers, which raises the question how many botanical wonders go unseen. The flowers are arranged in dropping spikes each characterised by five yellow perianth whorls (sepals & petals). Also of note are the three-pronged spines, sharply toothed leaves and elongated bright red fruits.
It turns out that Barberry is amazing in other ways. It has been an important source of material for herbal healing for over 2,500 years (Arayne, et al., 2007). Modern science has found over twenty alkaloids with medical importance from different parts of the plant, whilst homeopaths use it for kidney pain and removal of stones (Arayne, et al., 2007). The plant is mainly used nowadays for gallbladder ailments, but it has also been noted for its use as an antiseptic (bark & root), for jaundice, rheumatism (flowers & stem bark) and much more (PFAF) ....but sadly not the improvement of eyesight. Well at least I should have no trouble spotting the bright red berries.
Arayne, M.S, Sultana, N. and Bahadur, S.S (2007) The berberis story: Berberis vulgaris in therapeutics. Pak J Pharm Sci, 20(1):83-92.
Plants for a Future (PFAF) (www.pfaf.org)