Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on July 10, 2023
8 min read

Barley is a grain used to make beer and cereals. It’s also a substitute for rice in many recipes. Barley is one of the world’s first cultivated grains, originating as early as 10,000 years ago in parts of Eurasia.

Barley is rich in nutrients and an excellent source of fiber. For centuries, many cultures have mixed the grain with water, believing it to be a health elixir that can treat urinary tract infections, digestive pain, and kidney problems. Modern science supports some traditional claims, and research studies point to other potential health benefits of drinking barley water.

Raw barley is widely available at grocery stores. You can also buy premade barley water; however, make sure to go for a bottle with few added ingredients. Some products contain preservatives, sugars, and flavorings that can reduce their nutritional value.

It comes in many forms, including:

  • Sprouted barley
  • Pearl barley
  • Barley oil extract
  • Barley flour

People take barley to lower their:

People also take barley to promote weight loss or help prevent some types of cancer.

Barley is probably effective at reducing total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol levels. It may also lower triglycerides and increase HDL "good" cholesterol levels, but the research has been mixed. How much it lowers cholesterol may depend on how many grams you eat. The effect may also be less when barley is highly processed.

Barley may also lower blood pressure in people who do not have high blood pressure but do have high cholesterol.

Fiber in foods, such as barley, may help prevent stomach cancer or prolong life in those with the disease. However, barley itself doesn't seem to protect against colorectal cancer.

Researchers have not yet proven barley's effectiveness for other purposes. However, barley may help control appetite by stabilizing blood sugar and by slowing the emptying of your stomach.

The best doses of barley as a food or supplement have not been established for any condition.

Barley is a grain you can eat as food. It provides a source of:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamins
  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Fatty oils

Half a cup of boiled barley contains:

  • Calories: 118
  • Protein: 1.87 grams
  • Fat: 2.3 grams
  • Carbohydrate: 23 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

It's also used as an ingredient to make beer.

Side effects. Some sensitive people can develop anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) from beer made with barley.

Risks. Barley is generally safe in the amounts found in foods, even if you are pregnant, but don't eat large amounts of cooked barley sprouts during pregnancy. Barley comes with a risk of bacteria that can cause illness. Therefore, as per the FDA, pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts of any type. Moreover, avoid taking barley supplements when breastfeeding, just to be safe.

Interactions. Barley could lower blood sugar levels too much if combined with herbs, supplements, or drugs that do the same thing. Other supplements that may lower blood sugar levels include:

  • Bitter melon
  • Ginger
  • Willow bark

The fiber in barley might also make it harder for your body to absorb certain drugs if taken at the same time as those substances.

The FDA allows food products containing 3/4 of a gram of soluble fiber from barley per serving to make this claim: It may reduce the risk of heart disease when used as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Talk with your doctor before taking any supplements, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check for any potential side effects or interactions with medications or foods. They can let you know if the supplement might increase your risks.

Is barley gluten-free?

No, it's not. In fact, if you have celiac disease, avoid eating barley because it could trigger an autoimmune response. This includes all forms of barley such as barley malt, malt extract, pearl barley, barley flour, and barley supplements.

Barley water is a good source of: 

  • Iron
  • Folate
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Selenium

Barley water is also a great source of magnesium—a mineral that regulates muscle and nerve function. Research shows it can also help maintain blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

Barley water is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Health benefits of drinking barley water include: 

Improved kidney and liver health

Some studies report that the nutrient profile of barley water may contribute to kidney and liver health. It may also prevent kidney stones and urinary tract infections, but more research is needed to confirm these effects.

Reduced risk of chronic disease

Barley water contains ferulic acid—an antioxidant that can protect your cells from cancer-causing damage and prevent tumor growth. Moreover, barley’s mix of dietary fibers reduces high blood sugar levels—a risk factor for chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. It is best to drink this water unstrained, as removing the grains can lower its fiber content. 

Heart health

Barley water has tocols in it. Tocols are antioxidants that lower your cholesterol and clear artery blockages. Studies report that its soluble fiber and niacin contents contribute to its cholesterol management benefits. Maintaining good cholesterol levels and healthy blood vessel function can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Weight management

Research shows that the fiber content in unstrained barley water improves your metabolism, which may help with weight loss as part of a healthy lifestyle. Because fiber takes longer for your body to digest, it can help you feel fuller and avoid overeating.

Early research conducted with mice found that barley releases an appetite-suppressing hormone in the gut. Researchers believe this effect might help treat or prevent obesity and diabetes. However, more research is needed to confirm if this is true in humans.

Immune system support

The high level of antioxidants in barley water may boost your immune system. These nutrients fight cell damage that occurs naturally with age, which may increase owing to various environmental and lifestyle factors. This cell damage, called oxidation, is linked to a range of chronic diseases, including cancer.

Studies report that barley’s antioxidant profile has a unique ability to stimulate and heighten your immune system response. This effect may encourage faster recovery and help keep you from getting sick.

Barley water is an excellent source of many nutrients, but its nutrient profile can cause health risks for some people. Talk to your doctor before adding it to your diet to make sure it’s a safe option for you.

Health risks of barley water include:

Digestive discomfort. Unstrained barley water contains high levels of fiber. This can promote good digestion and gut health. However, if you consume too much of it, its fiber content can cause stomach cramps, constipation, bloating, and gas.

Unwanted weight gain. Barley water is high in calories per serving. You can further increase the calorie count if you add fruit juices or sweeteners like honey to your barley water mix. Moderate the amount you drink to avoid consuming too many calories, as this can cause unwanted weight gain.

Allergic reaction. Barley is high in gluten. Avoid it if you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

Medication interactions. Because it can lower blood sugar levels, talk to your doctor before adding barley water to your diet if you are currently on medication to manage your blood sugar.

Barley tea is an immensely popular drink in Korea, China, and Japan. Fans of the drink enjoy it both hot and cold and tend to drink it on a regular basis. Barley tea is called boricha in Korea, damai cha in China, and mugicha in Japan.

Roasted barley is the primary ingredient in barley tea. Barley's scientific name is Hordeum vulgare. The drink isn't a true tea because it isn't brewed from tea leaves that come from the Camellia sinensis plant.

Because the barley is roasted, barley tea has a woody, nutty flavor. Sometimes, it produces a slightly bitter aftertaste. People often drink barley tea without anything else in it, but some add fruit juice or other mild sweeteners to it.

Barley tea is rich in antioxidants, which are known to have many health benefits. Antioxidants protect against cancer, heart attacks, and other diseases. Unfortunately, researchers haven't studied barley tea drinking in relation to these health issues.

Barley tea also contains significant levels of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone naturally found in the body and is known to promote quality sleep. Although researchers have not studied the effects of barley tea on sleep, the presence of melatonin suggests that the tea might be effective as a sleep aid.

Studies have reported that barley tea can boost oral health. In one study, regular barley tea drinkers had less plaque on their teeth and lower levels of harmful bacteria in their saliva than people who do not drink the tea. Specifically, they have lower levels of streptococci and lactobacilli bacteria.

Barley tea nutrition

The nutrient content of barley tea varies depending on how much barley is in the tea. Half a cup of cooked barley contains:

  • Calories: 97
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: Less than 1 gram
  • Carbohydrate: 22 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Barley is also a source of iron and, to a lesser extent, calcium. Both iron and calcium are essential minerals for overall health.

There are two ways to brew barley tea: using a tea bag that contains crushed roasted barley and boiling roasted barley itself. These instructions are for preparing barley tea from roasted barley because barley tea bags come with their own brewing instructions.

Barley is widely available in most grocery stores, so it shouldn't be hard to find. There are many different forms of barley available, but roasted barley works best in barley tea. Other types of barley will not produce a beverage with the same nutty flavor.

Once you've obtained roasted barley, creating the tea is easy. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Bring the desired amount of water to a boil.
  2. Drop roasted barley into the water either directly or inside a tea strainer. Use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of barley per 4 cups of water.
  3. Reduce heat and allow the water to simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and let it cool before you drink it.