Botanical Name: Berberis buxifolia
Species: B. microphylla
*Berberis antucoana C.K.Schneid.
*Berberis barilochensis Job
*Berberis cristata (Lam.) Lavallée
*Berberis cuneata DC.
*Berberis dulcis Sweet nom. illeg.
*Berberis heterophylla Juss. ex Poir.
*Berberis inermis Pers.
*Berberis magellanica Dippel
Common Names: Magellan Barberry, Box-leaved barberry and Magellan barberry, in Spanish Calafate and Michay
Habitat: Berberis buxifolia is native to S. America – S. Chile and S. Argentina. Occasionally naturalized in Britain. It grows in coastal scrub, forest margins, clearings and moister areas in grass.
Berberis buxifolia is an evergreen Shrub growing to 2.5 m (8ft) by 3 m (9ft). It is in leaf all year, in flower in April. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile.
The bush grows to a height of 1.0 to 1.5 m (3 ft 3 in to 4 ft 11 in). It has many arching branches, each covered in many tripartite spines. The bush has many small yellow flowers in summer. Its edible blue-black berries are harvested for jams, but are eaten fresh too – a legend tells that anyone who eats a calafate berry will be certain to return to Patagonia.
The calafate is grown commercially for its fruit, potential medical uses and as a garden plant or bonsai. Its wood is used to make a red dye. The cultivar Berberis microphylla ‘Nana’ is widely available as a garden shrub, and is also used in commercial plantings as a low spiny hedge to discourage intruders, but it does not fruit.
Berberis microphylla is a fairly hardy plant, it can tolerate occasional winter temperatures falling as low as -15°c, though it can be deciduous in cold winters.
Prefers a warm moist loamy soil and light shade but it is by no means fastidious, succeeding in thin, dry and shallow soils and in full sun. Grows well in heavy clay soils.
The dwarf Berberis microphylla nana is the form of this species that is most commonly found growing in Britain. It is very free flowering but to date (1994) we have not seen this form bearing fruit. The species is supposed to be self-fertile so it is possible that this form is sterile. Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus. Plants can be pruned back quite severely and resprout well from the base.
Fruit – raw or used in conserves.. Freely borne in Britain. Large and black with a pleasant flavour, they are eaten out of hand. Said to be the best flavoured of the South American barberries, the fruit is hardly acid and but slightly astringent. The green unripe fruits can be used like gooseberries in pies etc. The subglobose berries are 7 – 11mm in diameter.
The alkaloid berberine, which is universally present in the roots and stems of Berberis species, has marked antibacterial effects. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery.
It should not be used in combination with Glycyrrhiza species (Liquorice) because this nullifies the effects of the berberine.
Berberine has also shown antitumour activity.
The roots and stems of all Berberis species contain alkaloids and, when cut open, are a strong yellow colour. This has been utilized by various cultures to make a yellow dye for cloth etc
All parts of the plant contain the alkaloid berberine – this is most concentrated in the roots, stems and inner bark, and least concentrated in the fruits. In small quantities berberine has a range of effective medicinal applications but, in excess, can cause vomiting, lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, lethargy, and other ill-effects.
The fruit of most, if not all, members of this genus are more or less edible and can be eaten in quantity since the levels of berberine in the fruit are very low.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.