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Berberis vulgaris, European Barberry

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A very ornamental plant, the barberry was at one time cultivated for its edible fruit. Plants can be pruned back quite severely, they resprout well from the base.

Plants can be grown as a medium-size hedge in exposed positions but they cannot tolerate extreme maritime exposure. They are very tolerant of trimming but can also be left untrimmed if required.

A good quality yellow dye is obtained from the roots, bark and stem. As well as being used on cloth, it is also used to stain wood. The unripe fruit is dried and used as beads.

Wood - soft, very hard, fine grained, yellow. Used for carving, toothpicks, mosaics etc. It is also used as a fuel.

Barberries have long been used as a herbal remedy for the treatment of a variety of complaints.

Prefers a warm moist loamy soil but it is by no means fastidious, succeeding in thin, dry and shallow soils. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Succeeds in full sun or light shade but requires a moist soil when grown in the shade of trees.

May require cold stratification and should be sown in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. The seedlings are subject to damping off, so should be kept well ventilated. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame. If growth is sufficient, it can be possible to plant them out into their permanent positions in the autumn, but generally it is best to leave them in the cold frame for the winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year.

Edible uses

Fruit - raw or cooked. Rich in vitamin C, the fruit has a very acid flavour and is mainly used in preserves, though children and some adults seem to like it raw when it is fully ripe. A refreshing lemon-like drink can be made from the fruit. The fruits are about 10mm long.

Young leaves - used as a flavouring or as an acid nibble. They can be used in much the same way as sorrel (Rumex acetosa).

The dried young leaves and shoot tips make a refreshing tea.

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