Family: Asteraceae or Compositae
Other names: P. officinalis, P. ovatus, P. vulgaris, Tussilago petasites, T. hybrida, Langwort, Umbrella Plant, Bog Rhubarb, Flapperdock, Blatterdock, Capdockin, Bogshorns, Butter-Doc, Arctic Butterbur, Butter Dock, Pestilence Wort, Petasites frigidus, Purple Butterbur, Western Coltsfoot
Habitat: Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to Spain, north and west Asia. Wet meadows and copses by streams to 1500 metres. The female form is rare or absent from much of Britain.
Butterbur is a very useful medicinal herb, it contains petasins, a group of bitter-tasting compounds in a class of chemicals called sesquiterpenoids. Petasine is a specific petasin considered important in butterbur. Petasins relax blood vessels and various smooth muscles in the body, such as those that are found in the uterus and lungs, according to test tube and animal studies. Petasins are also known to reduce inflammation, as demonstrated in human studies. It is due to this chemical that Butterbur is said to be beneficial for people with migraines and asthma. Butterbur extracts have consistently been shown to reduce symptoms in people with migraines more effectively than placebo. Butterbur has also been shown to help people with asthma, although the results have been conflicting. Some studies have also shown that butterbur extract works just as well as a common anti-histamine drug for people with hay fever, but without causing drowsiness.
Description of Butterbur:
Petasites hybridus; Butterbur is a , growing to 1 m (3ft 3in) by 3 m (9ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone 4. It is in leaf 12-Apr It is in flower from Mar to May. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by Insects.The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.
Cultivation of Butterbur:
Succeeds in ordinary garden soil, but prefers a deep fertile humus-rich soil that is permanently moist but not stagnant, succeeding in shade, semi-shade or full sun. Requires a moist shady position. Plants can be grown in quite coarse grass, which can be cut annually in the autumn. A very invasive plant, too rampant for anything other than the wild garden. Its roots are very difficult to eradicate. It is best to only grow the male form in the garden to prevent unwanted seedlings popping up all over the place. The growth is so dense and vigorous, with large leaves that can be 75cm or more across, that virtually no other plant is able to grow amongst this species. Plants are a useful early nectar source for bees. Dioecious, male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
Propagation of Butterbur:
Seed – we have no information on this species but suggest sowing the seed in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe or in early spring. Only just cover the seed and do not allow the compost to dry out. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer. Division succeeds at almost any time of the year. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.
Collection of Butterbur:
The leaves are harvested in early summer, the root in late summer to autumn. Both can be dried for later use.
Culinary uses :
Part used: Root
Analgesic, Antispasmodic, Appetizer, Cardiotonic, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Homeopathy.
Butterbur is widely considered to be an effective cough remedy and recent experiments have shown it to have remarkable antispasmodic and pain-relieving properties. It acts specifically on the bile ducts, stomach and duodenum. The plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, in isolation these are toxic to the liver. The root and the leaves are analgesic, antispasmodic, cardiotonic, diaphoretic and diuretic. A decoction is taken as a remedy for various respiratory problems such as asthma, colds, bronchitis and whooping cough and also other complaints such as fevers and urinary complaints. It is also very effective in the treatment of gastrointestinal complaints and biliary dyskinesia. Externally it can be used as a poultice to speed the healing of wounds and skin eruptions. Preventing migraine headaches. Taking butterbur by mouth seems to prevent migraine headache. Using a specific extract from the butterbur root over 16 weeks can reduce the number and severity of migraine headaches and the length of time they last. This butterbur extract seems to reduce the number of migraine headaches by almost half. Because the plant contains potentially toxic alkaloids its internal use cannot be recommended. A homeopathic remedy is made from the roots. It is used in the treatment of severe and obstinate neuralgia.
Anne Pratt says the former name of this plant was the ‘plague-flower,’ as it gained a successful reputation among the few remedies during the time of that malady. Lyte, in his Herbal, 1578, calls it ‘a soveraigne medicine against the plague’, and remarks of its leaves that ‘one of them is large enough to cover a small table, as with a carpet,’ and they are often 2 feet in width. Under its ample foliage, the poultry in farm meadows, shelter themselves from the rain, or find a cool retreat from the noonday sun. The Swedish farmers plant it in great quantities near their bechives, as bees are attracted by its flowers.
Used for love divination and to raise one’s spirits by increasing sense of hope and faith.
The seeds in some parts of the country have been used for love divination.
- ‘The seeds of butterdock must be sowed by a young unmarried woman half an hour before sunrise on a Friday morning, in a lonesome place. She must strew the seeds gradually on the grass, saying these words:
- I sow, I sow!
- Then, my own dear,
- Come here, come here,
- And mow and mow!
The seed being scattered, she will see her future husband mowing with a scythe at a short distance from her. She must not be frightened, for if she says, “Have mercy on me,” he will immediately vanish! This method is said to be infallible, but it is looked upon as a bold, desperate, and presumptuous undertaking!’
Butterbur contains components called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. They are toxic to the liver and may cause cancers.The concentrations are often highest in the rhizomes and stalks, and lowest in the leaves, and may vary depending on where the plants are grown. Butterbur extract should be taken only when prepared by a reputable laboratory or herbalist.
Petasins, a group of bitter-tasting compounds in a class of chemicals called sesquiterpenoids. Petasine is a specific petasin considered important in butterbur. Petasins relax blood vessels and various smooth muscles in the body, such as those that are found in the uterus and lungs, according to test tube and animal studies.
Preparations and dosage of Butterbur:
Migraine prevention: Doses of at least 75 mg twice daily seem to be necessary for best results. Lower doses of 50 mg twice daily may not be effective in adults. There is also some evidence that this butterbur extract can decrease the frequency of migraine headaches in children aged 6-17 years. The butterbur extract researchers used was standardized to 15% petasin and isopetasin (the active ingredients in butterbur) and was free of liver-damaging chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs).
Hayfever: Taking a specific butterbur leaf extract seems to decrease nose discomfort in people with hay fever. Some evidence also suggests that this extract might be as effective as 10 mg per day of cetirizine(Zyrtec) or 180 mg per day of fexofenadine (Allegra). The leaf extract used in the research was made by Tesalin, Ze 339, Zeller AG, was free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), and was standardized to 8 mg total petasin, an active ingredient.