Berberis Aquifolium


This is a tall shrub, Native of the western section of the United States. It grows from Colorado to the Pacific ocean, and is specially abundant in Oregon and the northern part of California. Berberis Aquifolium belongs to the section Mahonia of the genus Berberis. The Berberis proper has simple leaves clustering in the axis of a simple or three-parted spine. The petals have two glands on the inside of each, at the base. The filaments have no teeth. Berberis Aquifolium and the other species are long in use in domestic practice throughout the west. Mahonia section species: the western United States by, Berberis Pinnata, a tall shrub with the general appearance of Berberis Aquifolium, distinguished from it by the leaflets, which are glaucous underneath, and the lower pair approximate to the base of the petiole. Berberis Repens, a small creeping plant, with leaves often ternate, and leaflets nearly orbicular, and which has been much confounded, and frequently described as Berberis Aquifolium. Berberis Nervosa, a small erect shrub, with leaves often longer than the stem — it appears to be more generally distributed than the other species. The chief characteristics of this species are, the leaflets are three-veined from an oblique base, the common petiole is jointed "like a bamboo stem", and the flowers are in slender racemes. The two other species, Berberis Fendleri and Berberis Fremonti, are of rare occurrence.

Botanical Source: Berberis Aquifolium is a shrub having stems about six feet high, erect, and rapid growth. The leaves are alternative, and consist of three or four pairs of leafs, and an odd one. They are evergreen, bright and shining on the upper surface, and very ornamental, so the shrub is often in cultivation, often under the improper name "holly". The leafs are smooth, ovate, from two to three inches long, and one-half as wide. They are acute, pinately veined, and the margin is indented with from 15-30 spiny teeth. The lower pair of leaflets is from one to two inches distant from the base of a common petiole.

The flowers are numerous, small, yellowish-green in color, and appear in early spring, with terminal racemes. The calyx has nine distinct sepals, colored like the petals and in two rows, the outer of which has three sepals. The petals are six, distinct, orbicular, and in rows of three each. The stamens are also six, and opposite the petals, they have irritable filaments, and anthers, opening, each by two little valves, hinged at a top. The fruit, which is know as "Oregon grape" is a cluster of purple berries, each containing an acid pulp good tasting, and from three to nine seeds.


The root of the Berberis Aquifolium is from ½ to one inch in diameter, often increasing to two and three inches at the base of the stem. It is woody, yellow throughout, and very hard. The bark is deep-yellow beneath and brown upon the surface. It has no odor and is very bitter. The roots of the other species of Mahonia are smaller, the B. Pinnata more nearly approaching the B. Aquifolium in size, the B. Repens is the smallest of any of the known species.

Chemical Composition

Berberis Aquifolium contains: berberine, a yellow alkaloid, berbamine, and oxyacanthine, both white alkaloids, and phytosterin, gum and sugar. The flowers contain, in addition to the above alkaloids, volatile oil, and the berries contain malic acid. The presence of Berberine renders both root and bark bitter. The white alkaloid, oxyacanthine/CL9H2LNO3, which form soluble salts with most acids, is itself practically insoluble in water, soluble in hot alcohol and hot ether, and slightly so in cold alcohol and cold ether. It dissolves freely in fats and volatile oils, and in chloroform and benzol. It is alkaline, bitter and in the presence of sunlight changes color, becoming yellowish. Iodic acid is reduces by it with the liberation of free iodine. With nitric acid a yellow color is produced, which, when heated, changes to purple. Cold sulfuric acid turns it brownish-red, on heating it changes to a vivid red, and finally a brown, color. With ferric chloride, in dilute solution of potassium ferricyanide, a blue color is produces with salts of oxyacanthine. Berbamine (CL8HL3NO3) is a white alkaloid the salts of which dissolve slightly in solutions of chili saltpetre (nitrate of sodium). These salts strike a blue color with ferric chloride in a weak solution of ferricyanide of potassium. Phytosterin (C26H44OH2O) is a neutral body (found also in calabar bean, physostigma venenosum, balfour), differing from cholesterin, which it closely resembles, by its solution in chloroform not having any affect on polarized light.

Action and Uses

An alternative and tonic, and has been recommended in syphilitic affections, salt-rheum, pityriasis, psoriasis, and other cutaneous affections, as well as in problems supposed to be due to some mal-condition of the blood. Excretion and secretion are promoted by it, digestion and assimilation improved, the lymphatic glandular system and the ductless glands are stimulated, and the renal secretions somewhat augmented. It acts as a blood-maker, and it is a remedy to increase the body-fluids. As a tonic, it may be employed as a synonym of hydrastis, Colombo, Berberis. Good in dyspepetic conditions, chronic mucous conditions, in gastric functions, it is a valuable remedy for atonic dyspepsia, and particularly if associated with hepatic torpor. A cirrhotic liver, associated with gastro-enteritis, for chronic constipation when combined with cascara sagrada. It is said to be effectual in stomatitis. A major field for Berberis Aquifolium is in constitutional syphilis, if given early enough it will prevent tertiary phases, provided the patient has not been to thoroughly mercurialized. Its use must be prolonged in appreciable doses. It is especially adapted to long-standing cases of syphilis, the older the better. That broken-down state so frequently following. The various eruptions give way to it, the gastric complications are subdued, and the mucous membranes are toned so that excessive secretions are restrained. The bone and periosteal, as well as the muscular, pains of syphilitics, its action is slow. As it is also in severe muscular pains, with partial paralysis, due to spinal disease. Long standing syphilitic phagadenae and herpetic and eczematous states, syphilitic anemia. Stubborn cases of psoriasis, in erysipelatous and chronic scrofulous affections. While it has failed to cure carcinoma, valuable in the dyscrasiae due to a cancerous cachexia. Certain pulmonic troubles, by controlling secretions of the mucous tract. Cases of purpulent bronchorrhoea, pronounced incurable, have been cured by it, phthisis even where there were extensive cavities. The appetite improved, expectoration became lessened, the cough milder and less frequently, and flesh and strength returned. Of some value in leucorrhoea, when a syphilitic taint exists. In gastric and intestinal catarrh.


The dose of Berberis Aquifolium should be relatively large. Small doses work less affectedly. The dose of the fluid extract is from 10-20 drops some say to 30 drops, every three or four hours. It must be continued for some time to have it's effect, continue a long time. Specific indications: syphilitic dyscrasiae, constitutional syphilis, with periosteal or muscular pains, chronic skin affections, with blood dyscrasiae, profusely secreting, tumid mucous tissues, indigestion, with hepatitic torpor, yellow skin, with marked weakness and emaciation.


Carbolic acid, euonym, Berberis Vulgaris, hydrastis. Clinical uses: biliousness, bronchorrhoea, eczema, face roughness, headache, herpes, leucorrhoea, pityriasis, psoriasis, affections of spleen, stomatitis, syphilis, typhoid, affections of voice.

Clinical Trial

Start on Nov.17/1987 ten drops four times a day on an old case of psoriasis since 22 years, 20% improvement after three weeks. Itching less, margin of hair and neck still flaking.


This seems to be an excellent remedy for those afflictions associated with liver, gallbladder and spleen conditions. Take note that this is a slow acting remedy.

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