Berberis lycium: Introduction, Scientific Classification, Origin, Discovery, Description, Chemical Constituents and Uses

Berberis lycium: Introduction, Scientific Classification, Origin, Discovery, Description, Chemical Constituents and Uses


Berberis lycium, commonly known as Indian Barberry or Kasmal, is a shrub that belongs to the Berberidaceae family. It is native to the Himalayan region and is widely distributed in countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal. Berberis lycium has been recognized for its medicinal properties and is an important component of traditional medicine systems in these regions. In recent years, scientific research has also shed light on its various bioactive constituents and potential therapeutic uses.

Plant Profile

The family Berberidaceae was first established by (Jussieu A.L.)  as ‘Berberides’ and was considered one of the most primitive angiosperms having a high number of disjunct or discontinuous genera (Bruckner C 2000). Berberis lycium was described in 1837 by John Forbes Royle. Berberidaceae is a heterogeneous assemblage of angiosperms represented by around 12 genera and 600 species. About 77 species of Berberis are reported in India

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Ranunculales

Family: Berberidaceae

Genus: Berberis

Species: Berberis lycium


Berberis lycium is found throughout the temperate and subtropical regions of the world (apart from Australia). Berberis lycium is native to India, Nepal, and Pakistan and globally distributed in various parts of the world. In India, It occurs in sub-tropical and temperate regions from Kashmir to Uttaranchal on the outer northern-western Himalayas between altitude ranges of 850 – 3500 metres. The plant possesses wide ecological amplitude and seeds can be grown in sandy, silty or loamy soils.


Berberis lycium is native to the Himalayan region, particularly found in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal. It thrives in the subalpine and temperate regions, often growing in hilly areas at altitudes ranging from 1,200 to 3,000 meters above sea level. The shrub is well adapted to the climatic conditions of these regions and can withstand cold temperatures and poor soil quality.


The traditional use of Berberis lycium dates back centuries, and it has been an integral part of traditional medicinal practices in the Himalayan region. The local communities have utilized various parts of the plant, including the stem, roots, bark, and fruits, for their medicinal properties. The shrub was known for its ability to treat various ailments, and its use has been documented in ancient Ayurvedic texts and other traditional medicinal systems.

Morphology Aspects

1. The shrub of Berberis lycium is attractive and is easily grown shrub 2 to 3 m high, which is erect or suberect and semideciduous with a dimorphic shoot (the long shoot forming the structure of the plant and short shoot 1-2 mm long)

2. The stem and branches are pale whitish to greyish and contain spines arranged alternately on the stem.

3. Leaves of this plant are leaves 2.5 to 7.5 by 8.18 mm, lanceolate or narrowly obovate-oblong and coriaceous in shape entire or with a few large spinous teeth that are arranged alternately on the stem

4. The leaves of the plant are dull green above, pale and glaucous beneath. Secondary nerves are not prominent on the upper surface.

5. The plant has androgynous (containing both sex organs) flowers which are self-pollinated but pollination occurs via insects too. The plant blooms from May to June.

6. The flowers have a cupped shape which is arranged in racemes and is mostly pale yellow, and are larger than the leaves.

7. The fruits of the plant are called berries and are ovoid or obovoid-subglobose which acquire bright red colour or purplish colour on ripening. On average they are 7 mm long, 4 mm in diameter and weighing 227 mg.

8. The colour of the pulp or juice is plum purple. On average the fruit contains 2-5 seeds colour varying from yellow to pink.

9. The fruit is slightly acidic and juicy. The root is hard 3-8 cm in diameter, branched and gradually tapering and occasionally split longitudinally however its wood is smooth and bright yellow.

 10. Root bark can be up to 3mm thick, externally fissured and internally smooth

Chemical Constituents

Berberis lycium contains various bioactive compounds that contribute to its medicinal properties. The major chemical constituents found in the plant include alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins, phenolic compounds, and essential oils. The most notable alkaloid present in Berberis lycium is berberine, which is known for its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Other alkaloids such as palmatine and oxyacanthine are also found in smaller quantities.


Berberis lycium has been traditionally used for its medicinal properties in the Himalayan region. The various parts of the plant, including the roots, bark, leaves, and fruits, are used to prepare decoctions, infusions, and topical applications.

1. The plant has been valued for its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, hepatoprotective, and hypoglycemic properties.

2. It has been used to treat various ailments, including gastrointestinal disorders, liver problems, skin diseases, urinary tract infections, and diabetes.

3. Berberis lycium has also been explored for its potential anticancer and cardiovascular benefits, although further research is needed to establish its efficacy and safety in these areas.

4. The fruits of Berberis lycium are consumed fresh or used in jams, jellies, and sauces due to their tangy taste and high vitamin C content.

5. In modern herbal medicine, Berberis lycium is used to support digestive health, regulate blood sugar levels, and promote cardiovascular health.

6. It is available in various forms such as dried berries, powder, capsules, and extracts. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before using any herbal supplements or remedies.

Berberis lycium is a valuable plant species with a rich history of traditional use and growing recognition in modern medicine. Its bioactive compounds and pharmacological properties make it a promising candidate for further research and exploration of its potential therapeutic applications.

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