In this study, the polyphenols composition and antioxidant properties of 12 blue highland barley varieties planted on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau area were measured. The contents of the free, bound and total phenolic acids varied between 166.20–237.60, 170.10–240.75 and 336.29–453.94 mg of gallic acid equivalents per 100 g of dry weight (DW) blue highland barley grains, while the free and bound phenolic acids accounted for 50.09% and 49.91% of the total phenolic acids, respectively. The contents of the free, bound and total flavones varied among 20.61–25.59, 14.91–22.38 and 37.91–47.98 mg of catechin equivalents per 100 g of dry weight (DW) of blue highland barley grains, while the free and bound flavones accounted for 55.90% and 44.10% of the total flavones, respectively. The prominent phenolic compounds in the blue hulless barley grains were gallic acid, benzoic acid, syringic acid, 4-coumaric acid, naringenin, hesperidin, rutin, (+)-catechin and quercetin. Among these, protocatechuic acid, chlorogenic acid and (+)-catechin were the major phenolic compounds in the free phenolics extract. The most abundant bound phenolics were gallic acid, benzoic acid, syringic acid, 4-coumaric acid, benzoic acid, dimethoxybenzoic acid, naringenin, hesperidin, quercetin and rutin. The average contribution of the bound phenolic extract to the DPPH•
free radical scavenging capacity was higher than 86%, that of free phenolic extract to the ABTS•+
free radical scavenging capacity was higher than 79%, and that of free phenolic (53%) to the FRAP antioxidant activity was equivalent to that of the bound phenol extract (47%). In addition, the planting environment exerts a very important influence on the polyphenol composition, content and antioxidant activity of blue highland barley. The correlation analysis showed that 2,4-hydroxybenzoic acid and protocatechuic acid were the main contributors to the DPPH•
free radical scavenging capacity in the free phenolic extract, while chlorogenic acid, vanillic acid, ferulic acid and quercetin were the main contributors to the free radical scavenging capacity in the bound phenol extract. The study results show that the blue highland barley grains have rich phenolic compounds and high antioxidant activity, as well as significant varietal differences. The free and bound phenolic extracts in the blue hulless barley grains have an equivalent proportion in the total phenol, and co-exist in two forms. They can be used as a potential valuable source of natural antioxidants, and can aid in enhancing the development and daily consumption of foods relating to blue highland barley.