What is Berberine?
Berberine is a quaternary ammonium salt from the protoberberine group of isoquinoline alkaloids. It is found in such plants as Berberis [e.g. Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape), Berberis vulgaris (barberry), Berberis aristata (tree turmeric)], Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), Xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot), Phellodendron amurense (Amur cork tree), Coptis chinensis (Chinese goldthread 黄连素 or Huang Lian Su), Tinospora cordifolia, Argemone mexicana (prickly poppy), and Eschscholzia californica (Californian poppy). Berberine is usually found in the roots, rhizomes, stems, and bark.
Berberine was supposedly used in China as a broad-spectrum anti-microbial medicine by Shennong around 3000 BC. This first recorded use of Berberine is described in the ancient Chinese medical book The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic.
Due to Berberine's strong yellow color, Berberis species were used to dye wool, leather and wood. Wool is still dyed with berberine today in northern India. Under ultraviolet light, berberine shows a strong yellow fluorescence, so it is used in histology for staining heparin in mast cells. As a natural dye, berberine has a colour index of 75160.