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Butterbur: A Spring Bloom That Won't Make You Sneeze
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|Butterbur: A Spring Bloom That Won't Make You Sneeze
Parts used and where grown
Butterbur, or Petasites hydridus,
is found in colder, northern regions of Russia and Europe. A species
native to the northern United States and much of Canada is Petasites frigidus.
All parts of either plant can be used, including root, rhizome, leaves,
and flowers. Both species are easily confused with their close cousin,
Eastern coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), a plant that looks the same and has similar properties and hazards.
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
Traditionally the entire plant was used as a demulcent to soothe a dry,
spasmodic cough. It was primarily made into a tea, and used only for
short periods of time. Using the herb as a tea may have helped reduce
the liver's exposure to butterbur's toxic compounds, as they are not
normally water soluble.
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. Because of these properties, butterbur might be expected to be
beneficial for people with migraines and asthma. Some studies have also
shown that butterbur extract works just as well as a common
antihistamine drug for people with hay fever, but without causing
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. Butterbur also contains unsaturated pyrrolizidine
alkaloids. These can cause severe liver damage in some people if taken
for too long. Only extracts that exclude pyrrolizidine alkaloids should
How much is usually taken?
The most commonly available product is an extract of the rhizome of Petasites hybridus
standardized to contain 7.5 mg of petasine per capsule. This type of
extract removes the pyrrolizidine alkaloids to avoid causing liver
damage. Intake is usually 1 to 2 capsules three times per day.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
There are no known side effects as long as pyrrolizidine alkaloids are
not present. When they are present, they can cause serious liver damage
and even liver failure or death. Therefore, pyrrolizidine
alkaloid–containing extracts should not be used.
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