When you think of Butterbur, it’s possible that you think of a lump of butter, or perhaps an herb related to chamomile. That’s not entirely wrong – except for the butter part – but the truth is that Butterbur is much more than that. This is a plant that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and health remedies for its purported beneficial effects on several areas of the body, both inside and out. Let’s take a closer look at Butterbur and its many uses.
What Is Butterbur?
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a herbaceous perennial plant that grows in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. Specifically, it is a member of the Asteraceae (daisy) family and is related to the chamomile plant. Its leaves grow in a low, large mound and can reach up to two feet (sixty centimeters) across with flowers that blossom during the summer. Its stalk can be anywhere between twenty inches (50 centimeters) to five feet (1.5 meters) tall.
History of Butterbur Use
Butterbur has been used for centuries as a health remedy, primarily for its anti-inflammatory effects. It’s believed that the ancient Greeks and Romans used Butterbur to heal wounds and treat illnesses. One of the earliest recorded uses of Butterbur occurred in Europe during the Renaissance when it was used to treat plague victims. In England, peasants used the herb to treat headaches, jaundice, and other pain-related ailments.
Uses for Butterbur
Butterbur is still used today in modern medicine and health remedies. Here are some of the most common uses for the plant:
1. Migraine Headaches
Research suggests that Butterbur may help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. A recent randomized, double-blind trial found that Butterbur was as effective as the prescription drug sumatriptan, a common migraine treatment, at reducing migraine occurrence over the course of 12 weeks.
2. Common Allergies
Butterbur is believed to act as an anti-histamine, which helps reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies. One study showed that people who took a Butterbur extract were able to reduce their hay fever symptoms by as much as 75%.
Butterbur may also be beneficial for people suffering from asthma. Studies show that Butterbur can have a bronchodilatory effect, meaning it can help open constricted airways to ease breathing.
4. Gas and Cramps
Butterbur may be able to reduce the severity of gastrointestinal disturbances like gas and stomach cramps. A few studies suggest that Butterbur is more effective than a placebo at reducing these symptoms.
5. Urinary Tract Infections
Butterbur is believed to have antimicrobial properties that make it effective at fighting off urinary tract infections. Several studies have found that Butterbur can help reduce the symptoms of UTIs, including frequent urination and a burning sensation.
Risks and Precautions
Although Butterbur is generally considered safe when taken as recommended, there are some potential side effects and risks to be aware of.
First, Butterbur may interact with medications, including blood pressure drugs and those that increase serotonin levels in the brain. If you’re taking any medications, talk to your doctor before taking Butterbur.
Second, because Butterbur can reduce blood pressure, it’s important to avoid taking it if you already have low blood pressure.
Lastly, Butterbur contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, compounds that can cause liver damage. For this reason, it’s important to make sure you’re buying a Butterbur product that has had these compounds removed.
As you can see, Butterbur is much more than just an herb related to chamomile. It has a long history of traditional use dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, and it continues to be used today in modern medicine to treat a variety of health conditions, including migraines, allergies, and urinary tract infections. While safe when taken as recommended, it’s still important to talk to your doctor before taking Butterbur, especially if you’re taking any medications.