Species of the month – the butterbur | Scotland's Nature

About butterbur

Butterbur, also known as Petasites hybriduss, is a herbal extract that is utilized in alternative therapies. It is a kind of marsh plant that has long been used medicinally. It grows across Europe, as well as in some parts of Asia and North America. It takes its name from its big leaves, which were used to envelop butter in order to maintain its freshness in warm temperatures. Butterbur extract is derived from the plant’s leaves, roots, or bulb.

Some other common names of butterbur are Butter dock, Bog rhubarb, Pestilence wort, and Devil’s hat.

All components of the butterbur plant have also been utilized to cure a wide range of medical conditions. Butterbur has been used to treat diseases since the Middle Ages, when it was utilized to combat the plague. It has been used for generations to cure a variety of diseases such as migraine, hay fever (allergic rhinitis), and emotional distress produced by excessive emphasis on a physical symptom (somatic symptom disorder).

It is also used to treat lung and gastrointestinal problems, as well as irritable bladder, however there is no good evidence to support these claims.

Butterbur is available in a variety of forms, including:

  • Extracts
  • Pills
  • Tinctures
  • Powders
  • Gels
  • Lotions

Mechanism of action

Butterbur contains the compounds ‘petasin’ and ‘isopetasin.’ These substances aid in the reduction of spasms and inflammation. It is considered that the activity of these compounds is what gives butterbur its health advantages.

When you come into contact with an allergen, your body produces the inflammatory chemical leukotriene. Leukotriene is the substance that causes an allergic reaction in your body.
Leukotriene (LT) inhibitors work by blocking leukotriene and preventing or alleviating allergic reactions. Butterbur appears to work as an LT receptor inhibitor, similar to the medicine Montelukast. However, researchers have not yet proven that butterbur can be used to treat asthma or skin allergies.

Applications and effectiveness

1.) Migraines.

Butterbur is most commonly used to alleviate migraines and headaches. This use is supported by scientific evidence.

According to a 2011 study, butterbur is a secure and reliable migraine therapy, especially at large doses.
The specific mechanism by which butterbur relieves migraines is uncertain, according to the researchers.
They believe it is due to the anti-inflammatory properties of the active ingredients.

Consuming butterbur orally appears to help avoid migraine headaches. Over a 16-week period, using a particular extract from the butterbur root can decrease the number, intensity, and duration of migraine headaches. This butterbur extract appears to decrease the number of migraine headaches in half. Dosage of at least 75 mg twice daily appears to be required for the best outcomes. Adults may not benefit from lower dosages of 50 mg twice daily. In addition, there is also some indication that this butterbur extract can reduce the frequency of migraine headaches in children between the ages of 6 and 17 years.

2.) Hay fever (Allergic rhinitis).

Butterbur is widely used to treat allergic rhinitis, or hay fever.
According to a 2007 analysis of known studies, there is strong evidence that butterbur may help cure seasonal allergic rhinitis.

Consuming a particular butterbur leaf extract called Ze 339 (Tesalin, Zeller AG) appears to alleviate hay fever symptoms. According to some studies, this extract may be as efficient as 10 mg of cetirizine (Zyrtec) or 180 mg of fexofenadine daily (Allegra). However, when consumed for two weeks, this extract does not appear to improve airflow, nose and eye symptoms, or quality of life.

3.) Urinary tract infections.

Many individuals believe butterbur may effectively cure urinary tract infections because the active compounds in it aid in reducing spasms and inflammation.

Nevertheless, there isn’t enough scientific data to back up the notion that butterbur can help with urinary tract infections.

4.) Somatic symptom disorder (Psychological distress induced by an obsession with a physical symptom).

According to research, ingesting Ze185, a product containing butterbur, valerian root, lemon balm leaf, and passionflower (Relaxane, Max Zeller Söhne AG), decreases anxiety and depression in patients experiencing physical discomfort.

5.) Asthma.

A few studies have suggested that butterbur may be beneficial to people who suffer from asthma. According to preliminary study, butterbur may help decrease the number of asthma attacks in some adults or adolescents with asthma.

Adverse effects

While butterbur is generally well tolerated, some individuals may develop adverse effects. The following are some of the possible side effects:

  • When administered orally: When taken orally for up to 16 weeks, pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA)-free butterbur products are POSSIBLY SAFE. Butterbur that is free of PA is often well tolerated. Belching, headache, itchy eyes, diarrhea, indigestion, fatigue, and sleepiness are all possible side effects. When used to treat allergies, it appears to induce less sleepiness and fatigue than cetirizine (Zyrtec). Damage to the liver is uncommon.
  • When applied to the skin: Butterbur products containing PAs are LIKELY UNSAFE when used on broken skin. Chemicals can be absorbed into the body through broken skin. Avoid  butterbur products unless they have been certified and labelled as PA-free. There isn’t enough reliable evidence to determine if butterbur is suitable to use on undamaged skin or what the adverse effects might be.

The main safety risk is that some butterbur products may contain PAs. PAs have the potential to harm the liver, lungs, and blood circulation, as well as cause cancer. Butterbur products containing PAs are LIKELY UNSAFE. Use butterbur products only if they are verified and labelled as PA-free.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), PA-free butterbur products are safe, efficient, and do not induce adverse effects in the majority of people. They should be administered orally for 12 to 16 weeks in the recommended doses. However, it is unknown whether using butterbur for an extended period of time can generate complications.

Precautions and considerations

Before using butterbur, there are numerous factors to consider. As with any natural medicine, an individual should consult with a doctor to determine how butterbur may interact with any current medications they may be undergoing.
Furthermore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor the quality or sale of butterbur, therefore natural medicines should always be purchased from a reliable source.

Avoid using it for an extended period of time. While there have been studies on the short-term usage of butterbur, there have been no studies on the long-term use of the herb. As a result, it is unknown if long-term butterbur use would be safe.
It is advised to use butterbur solely for temporary relief.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Consuming butterbur orally while pregnant or breast-feeding is LIKELY UNSAFE. Butterbur formulations containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) have the potential to cause birth abnormalities and liver damage. Also, t here isn’t enough information available about the safety of consuming butterbur products which do not include PAs during pregnancy or breast-feeding. Therefore, it should not be used.

Ragweed and similar plant allergies: Butterbur can produce an allergic reaction in individuals who are allergic to the Asteraceae family. Ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, and many other plants are members of this family. If you have any allergies, consult with your doctor before using butterbur.

Liver diseases: Butterbur has been linked to an increase in the severity of liver disease. Therefore, avoid  it if you have any liver disorder. Because of the risk of hepatotoxicity, individuals with liver disease or malfunction should avoid raw butterbur extract containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs).


Butterbur has been demonstrated to be useful in the treatment of migraines. The evidence for its use in the treatment of hay fever is promising, although study is ongoing.

There is minimal evidence to support the use of butterbur to treat various other ailments based on current studies.
Most people are comfortable using “PA-free” natural medicines containing butterbur, but they should still take precautions and study the brand and any adverse effects. Some people may encounter minor side effects, particularly if they are allergic to plants.