This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Barberry berries, as supplied at the shops, have some excellent medicinal virtues. They grow on a cultivated variety of the wild shrub Berberis, as found in our English copses, and hedges, particularly about Essex. These small scarlet berries are stoneless when old, containing malic and citric acids; they also afford curative principles, "berberin," and "oxyacanthin," which exercise a stimulating effect on the liver, and are astringent. Barberry jam helps to obviate gravel, and to relieve irritation of the bladder. Tusser, in his Good Huswifelie Physicke (1573), has commended: -
"Conserve of Barbarie; Quinces as such, With Sirops that easeth the sickly so much".
A jelly having virtues of this kind may be made by boiling an equal weight of the berries (when ripe) and of sugar together, and straining off the sweet juice to jelly when cool. The syrup of Barberries forms, with water, an excellent astringent gargle for sore, relaxed throat. Barberry tea, concocted from the yellow bark, will afford prompt relief in an attack of kidney colic, from gravel. Some of it should be drunk in small quantities every five minutes until the pain is subdued. Such a tea of infused Barberry twigs is used locally in Lincolnshire for persons troubled with jaundice, or gall-stones.
"The good Elizabethan housewife had always by her a store of cordials, and restoratives, such as rose-water and treacle, herbs for the ague, fumitory water for the liver, cool salads, syrups and conserves of Quince, and Barberry."A drink made from the Barberiy root, and bark, being sweetened with syrup of Barberries, has proved remarkably curative of ague. Also a jam, or jelly, prepared from the fruit, affords specific help in Bright's disease, or albuminuria. Provincially the bush is called "Pipperidge (pepin, a pip, and rouge, red) because of its small, scarlet, juiceless fruit. To make Barberry jam, according to a good old recipe: "Pick the fruit from the stalks, and bake it in an earthen pan; then press it through a sieve with a wooden spoon. Having mixed equal weights of the prepared fruit, and of powdered white sugar, put these together in pots, and cover the mixture up, setting them in a dry place, and having sifted some powdered sugar over the top of each pot".
Barberries are called "'Rapperdandies" in the North, and "Rilts."The ancient Egyptians made a drink from them highly esteemed in pestilential fevers. "Elusius setteth it down as a wonderful secret which he had from a friend, that if the yellow bark of Barberry be steeped in white wine for three hours, and be afterwards drunk, it will purge one very marvellously, ' thus unloading an oppressed liver. The berries upon old Barberry bushes are the best fruit for preserving, or for making the jelly.