Tonight’s Forage Friday post is about plant that is considered edible, medical and toxic. It’s important to remember that my Forage Friday posts are presented as trivia and should not be mistaken for an endorsement of treatment of treatment. I’m only giving you an introduction to the plants and you should do farther research and/or a qualified mentor.
Last Spring I spotted something on my father’s land that I had never paid much attention to before. The compact shrub with maroon leaves stands out against the cool jade background. Had this plant been planted in the right place and groomed well it would make an attractive addition to the yard. This particular shrub is well known in urban and suburban areas. It’s a Japanese Barberry. While this an alien species in the Appalachian Mountains it has become naturalized along with a European variety. We do also have a native species in North America. As far as I can tell all of the species have similar qualities and can probably be used interchangeably.
First let’s look at berry itself. All sources agree that they are rich in Vitamin C like many wild edibles. A 1/4 cup of dried berries is said to contain %213 of a person’s daily value. With such a small quantity required for that value that means the dried fruit can be tossed into a trail mix or used in teas to provide an extra boost of nutrition. Additionally, the berries provide zinc, manganese, copper, and iron as well as some sugars, fiber and protein. Traditional uses include treatments for digestive problems and applied to skin problems. Part of those benefits probably come from the high concentrations of vitamin C. I remember reading several years ago that vitamin C can be applied directly to a minor cut in order to prevent infection.
Native Americans used the native species as part of kinnikinnick. In fact the world is both their name for Barberry and the name of an herbal tobacco preparation. Recipes vary depending on the tribe and individual tastes but in general the stuff in those pipes was not pure tobacco as it used today. It contained Barberry, Staghorn Sumac,tobacco, various mints and other herbs.
The main component found in Barberry is an alkaloid called Berberine. In addition to being a powerful antioxidant Berberine may have a positive impact on the cells ability to utilize insulin. Something that’s of particular interest to me since I’m a type 2 diabetic with insulin resistance. Anything that I can do to avoid artificial pharmaceuticals always piques my interest. ( please remember the disclaimer at the top of the article.) Especially in the age of Covid when the supply chain coming into remote areas could easily be disrupted.
The list of possible uses for this plant also included anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial mouthwash.
As I review the research for tonight’s article I’m seeing a lot of ads for Barberry based supplements and health products as well as nurseries selling the plants as landscape enhancements. I don’t have a figure to quote tonight but if the amount of advertising is any indication Barberry has the potential to become a plant for industrial production with the berries being sold to bulk suppliers of supplement industry and excess plants sold as landscaping. It’s one of the plants that can take us from a wilderness survival standpoint to a cash crop.
That’s about it for tonight. The only other factoid I have to share is that it’s found in urban areas which makes it a possibility for the urban forager but the caveat is that in urban areas the plants are likely to be contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals so extreme caution needs be used there.
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