Berberis

Berberis (pronounced /ˈbɜrbərɪs/ Bér-be-ris),[1] the barberries or pepperidge bushes, is a genus of about 450-500 species of deciduous and evergreenshrubs from 1-5 m tall with thorny shoots, native to the temperate and subtropical regions of EuropeAsiaAfricaNorth America and South America. They are closely related to the genus Mahonia, which is included within Berberis by some botanists. Species diversity is in South America, Africa and Asia; Europe has a few species, and North America only two.

The plant

The genus is characterised 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-spined 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 deciduous species (e.g. Berberis thunbergiiB. vulgaris) are noted for good autumn colour, the leaves turning pink or red before falling. In some evergreen species from China (e.g. B. candidula, B. verruculosa), the leaves are brilliant white beneath, making them particularly attractive.

The flowers are produced singly or in racemes of up to 20 on a single flower-head. They are yellow or orange, 3-6 mm long, with six sepals and six petalsin alternating whorls of three, the sepals usually coloured like the petals. The fruit is a small berry 5-15 mm long, ripening red or dark blue, often with a pink or violet waxy surface bloom; they may be either long and narrow (like a bar, hence ‘barberry’) or in other species, spherical.

Berberis species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Mottled Pug.

Several are popular garden shrubs, grown for their ornamental leaves, yellow flowers, and red or blue-black berries. They are also valued for crime prevention; being very dense, viciously spiny shrubs, they make very effective barriers impenetrable to burglars. For this reason they are often planted below potentially vulnerable windows, and used as hedges and other barriers.

Historically, yellow dye was extracted from the stem, root, and bark.[2]

Berberis vulgaris (European barberry) is the alternate host species of the wheat rust Puccinia graminis, a serious fungaldisease of wheat. For this reason, cultivation of this species is prohibited in many areas and imports to the United States are forbidden.

Some Berberis have become invasive species when planted outside of their native ranges, including B. glaucocarpa and B. darwinii in New Zealand (where it is now banned from sale and propagation), and B. thunbergii in some parts of North America.

Culinary uses

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 Asian 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 (Barberis) is made using extract from the berries, which are commonly pictured on the candy wrappers. Confiture d’épinette was a traditional sweet of Rouen.[3]

Calafate

Berberis microphylla or Berberis heterophylla (Calafate) and Berberis darwinii (Michay) are two species found in Patagonia in Argentina and Chile. Their edible purple fruits are used for jams and infusions; anyone who tries a berry is said to be certain to return to Patagonia. The calafate and michay are symbols of Patagonia.

Zereshk

Zereshk (زرشک) is the Persian name for the dried fruit of Berberis vulgaris, which are 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.

The South Khorasan province in Iran is the main area of zereshk and saffron production in the world. Barberry cultivation in Iran is concentrated in the South Khorasan province, especially aroundBirjand and Qaen. About 85% of production is in Qaen and about 15% in Birjand. According to evidence the cultivation of seedless barberry in South Khorasan goes back to two hundred years ago.[4]

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 poloRecipe, and provides a nice meal with chicken. Zereshk jamphoto,zereshk juicephoto, and zereshk fruit rollsphoto are also produced in Iran.

In colloquial Persian, zereshk is used as a term for showing dissent or disagreement, similar to the usage of “blowing a raspberry” in English. Although not a vulgar term in that context, it is not used in polite speech.[citation needed]

Medicinal uses

Some berberis species are known as Barberry and used for herbal medicine. Barberry contains the alkaloid berberine.

{Information courtesy Wikipedia}