Botanical: Petasites vulgaris; Petasites hybridus
Family: Compositae (daisy) - Asteraceae (aster)
Other common names: Umbrella Plant, Langwort, Bog Rhubarb, Flapperdock, Blatterdock, Capdockin, Butter Dock, Bogshorns, Butterbur-Coltsfoot, Sweet Coltsfoot**, Pestilence Wort, Pestilence Weed, Wild Rhubarb, Hat Plant
Since Butterbur is no longer needed for "pestilence," modern herbalists still esteem it for the relief of asthma, bronchitis, smoker's cough and other lung ailments. Recent studies show excellent promise for easing migraines and seasonal allergies, including hayfever.
The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
Butterbur is a large, stout, hardy plant with huge, rhubarb-like leaves and clusters of pinkish, purplish flowers that is native to Europe (with a wide distribution in Britain), north and west Asia, and has been introduced into North America. It is a perennial herb that spreads mainly via an underground creeping rhizome (root) with individual plants functioning either as females or males, and it is typically found growing wild in wet meadows, marshes, floodplains, or beside damp roadsides and waterways in shade. Butterbur is so-called, because its huge leaves, with their downy undersides, were used to wrap butter in the days before refrigeration, and its botanical name, Petasites, is derived from the Greek word, petasos, a type of hat with a wide brim, which is appropriate, since the leaves (which may grow to two feet in width) are used even today as impromptu sunshades or umbrellas (another common name). **Although Butterbur is closely allied to Coltsfoot (sometimes even called by that name), it is a different plant; however, the two plants do have many related constituents and share many applications. Since ancient times, Butterbur has been highly valued as a medicinal plant. In early days, it was used to treat fevers associated with the plague, because, as Gerard noted in 1597, the plant "provoketh sweat and driveth from the heart all venom and evil[l] heat[e]." The seventeenth-century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, recommended it as a "strengthener of the heart," as well as a treatment for shortness of breath and removal of spots on the skin. Other historic remedies included treatments for removing small kidney stones (gravel), ulcerated sores, bronchial asthma, colic and spasms. More recently, the roots have been employed as a cardiac stimulant and remedy for headache, fevers, asthma, coughs and many other ailments that substantiate the herb's historical value. The dried leaves have served as a tobacco substitute (not too popular because of its rank taste); and the roots, which are also bitter to taste, are dried and used in herbal medicines. Some of the constituents included in Butterbur include resins, mucilage, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (which are toxic, but removed for use in herbal medicine), petasin and isopetasin.
Butterbur is believed to be an antitussive that controls or prevents coughs (and has even been thought to soothe smoker's cough). This natural cough suppressant is also thought to possess excellent herbal expectorant properties that facilitate the loosening of phlegm and expel it from the lungs to ease asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, dry coughs, colds, excess mucus, pleurisy, pneumonia and other lung problems.
As a demulcent and antispasmodic, Butterbur has a soothing effect on smooth muscle and further aids problems associated with spasmodic coughing by controlling the cough reflex, which also helps to resolve wheezing and whooping cough. It soothes the inflammation of sore throat and irritated tissues and eases laryngitis, tracheitis and hoarseness.
Butterbur is said to inhibit the production of histamine and leukotrienes (chemicals involved in allergic reactions), which helps to keep air passages open (including bronchial tubes and nasal passages), and this action may help to relieve allergic congestion and seasonal allergies. A 2002 clinical study completed in the Allergy Clinic in Switzerland, and published in the British Medical Journal indicated that Butterbur is as effective as antihistamines with fewer side effects in the treatment of hayfever (allergic rhinitis) and other seasonal allergies. A 2004 study published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy reported Butterbur to be as effective as the prescription drug fexofenadine in treating symptoms of hayfever.
Recent research has demonstrated that extracts of Butterbur contain active ingredients that are extremely effective in preventing and reducing the pain associated with migraines. It has also been used to relieve the pain of neuralgia, particularly pain along the nerves of the lower back.
Butterbur is considered a natural diuretic that promotes urine flow and has been useful for treating urinary problems and helping to remove gravel (small kidney stones).
As a sudorific, Butterbur helps to increase perspiration and has been used for centuries in herbal medicine to break fevers.
Used externally in poultices, Butterbur has been used to relieve the pain of insect bites and stings, burns, ulcers, sores, eczema and other skin problems.
Pregnant and nursing women should not use Butterbur Herbal Supplement. It is always wise to consult a physician before using this herb for specific conditions, particularly with regard to liver or kidney ailments, as it could be toxic. Large amounts of Butterbur or extended usage (many times the recommended dosage) should be avoided, as it may cause hypertension. If you're allergic to members of the daisy/aster family, do not use Butterbur, as it may actually worsen your allergy symptoms (Butterbur is related to the ragweed family of plants and may cause an allergic reaction).