In the scorching sunshine of April, the spiny shrub of barberry always attracted us. The plants were not rare as they are now. The presence of the dark black fruit on the spiny plant would make us really happy as it was a sign of ripened berries. The fruit would give sweet flavor ending with the tinge of bitterness. However the fruit would give the best taste as we would mix the fruit with the mixture of salt, pepper, curd and sugar. The taste would give us the real sense of happiness in those April months. The fruit was one of the happy memories of our childhood in one of the villages in the deciduous belt of Nepal.
The development of the road in the village induced the modernization in the lifestyle of the people and fostered the marketing of some indigenous vegetable products such as Baby Shoots (Tusa), Neuro etc. Despite that, these medicinal value of this under exploited fruit Barberry was unknown to us then and is unknown yet. Today, after 15 years of our happening childhood, the shrub is not there where it used to be and it remains endangered in my village. Luckily, I was able to witness the presence of this dear fruit after some hard work.
Barberry (Berberis aristata, Chutro:Nepali) belongs to the family Berberidiaceae and the genus consists of decidouous evergreen shrubs and is found in temperate and subtropical regions of Asia, Europe and America. B.aristatais native to Himalayas of India and in Nepal. The stem,roots and fruits possess medicinal properties and are used in many Ayurveda treatments of ailments, such as urinary problems. The root bark contains berberine , which has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and antioxidant properties. It can possess anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-diabetic activities. It is also known to be used as laxative and dye.
It is sad that the importance of this fruit is confined to the berries we used to consume as children. The use of this fruit helps to minimize the side effects of the anti-cancer chemotherapy drug, cisplatin which would be advantageous in the developing country like ours where we are yet to develop advanced anti-cancer therapy. The use of Barberry as a medicinal shrub remains feasible in Nepal as its propagation is easier through semi hard wood cutting and requires short time period. As the climate and ecological belt is on our side, its high time we realize the importance of this shrub and preserve its existence through propagation.
Author: Sujan Poudel | Agriculture and Forestry University (AFU), Faculty of Agriculture