When most people think of barley, they associate it with the grain, which is widely considered to be the first cereal grain to be cultivated.
Crop references date back to 25th century BC, and references to barley as part of standard diets could be found throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Barley is an annual grass that can easily grow in a wide range of climates, which accounts for its wide spread across both the European and Asian continents.
Like many plants that have been cultivated since ancient times, barley served a dual purpose in these cultures. The grain, of course, is used for food, but the leaf part of young barley grass also had a number of medicinal uses in ancient cultures.
Records show that barley grass was used to treat a variety of skin, liver, and blood disorders. Ancient Greeks used it for treating GI inflammation, and the Roman physician Pliny used it to cure boils.
This tradition carries on today, with ongoing research into the health benefits of barley grass. Read on to see how barley grass can be part of your regular wellness lifestyle.
1. Protecting against alcohol-related fatty liver disease
A 2016 study in the journal Nutrients looked at the effect of barley grass on damage from alcohol-related fatty liver disease in lab mice. The mice were fed a liquid alcohol diet, with or without barley grass, for four weeks. A
t the end of the four weeks, those mice that were fed barley grass did not appear to show any of the serious liver damage that was present in those mice who did not receive the barley grass, particularly any inflammatory response that is common with alcohol damage.
2. Promoting better sleep
A 2014 review study in the journal Current Signal Transduction Therapy provided an overview of various functional foods that help promote better sleep, including barley grass.2
The researchers noted that barley grass powder supplements contain gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and better sleep. Some of these supplements also included calcium, magnesium and B vitamins, which also may help your patients sleep better.2
3. Antidepressant effects
Another mouse study, published in the journal Pharmacognosy Research, looked at the possible antidepressant effects of barley grass.3 A group of lab mice were forced to swim after being fed either barley grass or imipramine (a tricyclic antidepressant).
The antidepressant effect was measured by the amount of time that the mice spent immobile in the water, other than the minimal effort needed to keep their heads above water.3
At the end of the study, those mice given either barley leaf or imipramine prior to the swimming test showed a distinct drop in the amount of time they spent immobile in the water, which indicated a strong antidepressant effect.3 Given that imipramine is known to have, including weakness, dizziness, weight gain and tiredness, barley grass may provide a safer alternative to treating the symptoms of depression.
The ancient Greeks and Romans understood that many of the foods they ate also had valuable medicinal properties. Given some of the ongoing research into barley grass, it seems that they had the right idea.
- Lee Y-H, Kim J-H, Kim SH, et al. Barley sprouts extract attenuates alcoholic fatty liver injury in mice by reducing inflammatory response. Nutrients. 2016;8(7):440.
- Zeng Y, Yang J, Du J, et al. Strategies of functional foods promote sleep in human beings. Current Signal Transduction Therapy. 2014;9(3):148-155.
- Yamaura K, Nakayama N, Shimada M, et al. Antidepressant-like effects of young green barley leaf (Hordeum vulgare L.) in the mouse forced swimming test. Pharmacognosy Research. 2012;4(1):22-26.