The Universal Herbal: Berberis Vulgaris; Common Berberry.

The Universal Herbal;
or botanical, medical and agricultural dictonary.
Containing an account of All the known Plants in the World, arranged according to the Linnean system. Specifying the uses to which they are or may be applied, whether as food, as medicine, or in the arts and manufactures.
With the best methods of propagation, and the most recent agricultural improvements.
collected from indisputable Authorities.
Adapted to the use of the farmer - the gardener - the husbandman - the botanist - the florist - and country housekeepers in general.
By Thomas Green.
Vol. I
Printed at the Caxton Press by Henri Fisher.
Printer in Ordinary to His Majesty.
Peduncles racemed; spines triple. — The common berberry is a shrub rising to the height of eight or ten feet; it is a native of the eastern countries, and now of most parts of Europe, in woods, coppices, and hedges. It is found in a chalky soil in England, particularly about Saffron-walden in Essex. The flowers appear in May, and the fruit ripens in September. The varieties of this species are not worth enumerating. The leaves of this shrub are gratefully acid: the smell of the flowers is offensive when near, but pleasant at a certain distance: the berries are so very acid that birds seldom touch them. The berberry, however, is cultivated for the sake of the fruit, which are pickled, and used for garnishing dishes, and being boiled with sugar, form a most agreeable rob or jelly; they are used likewise as a sweetmeat, and are put into sugar plums or comfits. The roots boiled in lye yield a yellow colour; and in Poland they dye leather of a fine yellow colour with the bark of the root. The inner bark of the stems will also dye linen of a fine yellow, with the assistance of alum. Cows, sheep, and goats, are said to eat it; horses and swine to refuse it. The fruit of the berberry is considered as a mild restringent acid, agreeable to the stomach, and of efficacy, like other vegetable acids, in hot bilious disorders, and in a putrid disposition of the humours. According to Prosper Alpinus, the Egyptians employ a diluted juice of the berries in ardent and pestilential fevers. Their method is to macerate them in about twelve times their quantity of water, and let them stand for about twenty-four hours, and then to add a little fennel-seed. The liquor is then pressed out and strained, and sweetened with sugar, or syrup of citrons, roses, &c. and given plentifully as a drink. A concrete, similar to cream of tartar, may be obtained from the juice, by mixing it with lemon juice, in the proportion of two pounds of berberry juice, and two ounces of lemon juice, and digesting them in a sand-heat for two days, and then gently evaporating the filtered liquor to one-half, and setting it in a cellar for some days. The tartar incrustates the sides of the vessel, and is a grateful medicine in febrile disorders: in fact, it is the essential salt of the berberry. The berries of this shrub are also made into an agreeable jelly, by boiling them with an equal weight of fine sugar to a proper consistence, and then straining it. As the leaves are also acid, they have been sometimes employed for the same purposes as the fruit, and have been introduced as an ingredient in salads. The celebrated naturalist Mr. Ray, successfully employed the inner yellow bark, which is austere and bitterish, in the form of a decoction or other liquors, as a gentle purgative in the jaundice. It is also said to be a good lotion for the itch, and other cutaneous eruptions. In sects of various kinds are remarkably fond of the berberry flowers. Linneus observed long since, that when bees, in search of honey, touch the filamenta, they spring from the petal, and strike the antherae against the stigma, and thereby explode the pollen. The purpose which this curious contrivance of nature is intended to answer is evident: in the original position of the stamina, the antherae are sheltered from rain by the concavity of the petals; thus probably they remain, till some insect, coming to extract honey from the base of the flower, thrusts itself between the filamenta, and almost unavoidably touches them in the most irritable part; thus the impregnation of the germen is performed; and as it is chiefly in fine sunny weather that insects are on the wing, the pollen is also in such weather most fit for the purpose of impregnation. It is generally propagated by suckers, which are put out in great plenty from the roots; but these plants are very subject to send out suckers in greater plenty than those which are propagated by layers; therefore the latter method should be preferred. The best time for laying down the branches is in autumn, when their leaves begin to fall; the young shoots of the same year are the best for this purpose; these will be well rooted by the next autumn, when they may be taken off, and planted where they are designed to remain. Where this plant is cultivated for its fruit, it should be planted single (not in hedges, as was the old practice) and the suckers every autumn taken away, and all the gross shoots pruned out; by this method the fruit will be much fairer and in greater plenty, than upon those which have been suffered to grow wild: a few of these shrubs may be allowed to have place in wildernesses, or plantations of shrubs, where they will make a pretty variety; but they should not be planted in great quantities near walks which are much frequented, because their flowers emit a very strong disagreeable odour.

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