The genus Berberis is characterized by dimorphic shoots, with long shoots which form the structure of the plant, and short shoots only 1-2 mm long. The leaves on long shoots are non-photosynthetic, developed into three-spine thorns 3-30 mm long; the bud in the axil of each thorn-leaf then develops a short shoot with several normal, photosynthetic leaves. These leaves are 1-10 cm long, simple, and either entire, or with spiny margins. Only on young seedlings do leaves develop on the long shoots, with the adult foliage style developing after the young plant is 1-2 years old.
The berries are edible, and rich in vitamin C, with a very sharp flavour. The thorny shrubs make harvesting them difficult. Berries are often used in Middle Eastern and European rice pilaf recipes. They are an important food for many small birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings.
A widely available Ukrainian, Russian, Estonian and Lithuanian candy called Барбарис (Barbaris) is made using extract from the berries, which are commonly pictured on the candy wrappers. Confiture d'épinette was a traditional sweet of Rouen.
Zereshk is the Persian name for the dried fruit of Berberis vulgaris, which is widely cultivated in Iran. Iran is the largest producer of zereshk and saffron in the world. Zereshk and saffron are produced on the same land and the harvest is at the same time. Barberry cultivation in Iran is concentrated in the South Khorasan province, especially around Birjand (15%) and Qaen (85%). According to evidence the cultivation of seedless barberry in South Khorasan goes back 200 years. A garden of zereshk is called zereshk-estan.
Zereshk is widely used in cooking, imparting a tart flavor to chicken dishes. It is usually cooked with rice, called zereshk polo, and provides a nice meal with chicken. Zereshk jam, zereshk juice, and zereshk fruit rolls are also produced in Iran.
The dried fruit of Berberis vulgaris (BARBERRY) is used as a herbal medicine. The active ingredients in barberries are thought to be the isoquinolone alkaloids, especially berberine (also found, in higher concentrations, in the traditional Chinese medicine herb Coptis chinensis).
- Consuming large amounts of root and stem and leaf barberry or it is not suitable for pregnant women, because it stimulates the uterus and may cause miscarriage.
- Long-term high consumption of this plant can cause stomach and intestinal absorption of B vitamins in the body is disrupted.