Berberis vulgaris, also known as European barberry or simply Barberry, is a deciduous shrub, native to central and southern Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia. It grows up to 4m high with yellow flowers that bloom in late spring. The fruit is an oblong red berry, rich in Vitamin C, that ripens in late summer or autumn. Although it has a sharp flavor, people in many countries eat it as a tart and refreshing fruit. The thorny shrubs make harvesting them difficult, so in most places, they are not widely consumed. They are an important food for many small birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings.
Iran is the largest producer of zereshk and saffron in the world. Zereshk (or sereshk) is the Persian name for the dried fruit of Berberis, specially that of Berberis integerrima ‘Bidaneh’, which is widely cultivated in Iran. Zereshk and saffron are produced on the same land and the harvest is at the same time. In Iran their main production area lies in South Khorasan, especially around Qaen and Birjand. There is evidence of cultivation of seedless barberry in South Khorasan two hundred years ago.
Zereshk is widely used in cooking, imparting a tart flavor to chicken dishes. It is usually cooked with rice, called zereshk polo, and provides a nice meal with chicken. Zereshk jam, zereshk juice, and zereshk fruit rolls are also produced in Iran.
Photos of zereshk farms in Semirom (Isfahan), Birjand and Zohan (South Khorasan)