Petasites hybridus

Herbs gallery - Butterbur

Common names

  • Butterbur
  • Sweet Coltsfoot

Butterbur (botanical name, Petasites hybridus) is a tubby perennially growing herb that crops up from a coarse rhizome or subversive stem having a concave, dense, reddish-brown aerial stem (known as scape).

This stem is without any leaf and is swathes with scales resembling the shape of a lance and terminates in a thick bunches of flower heads having resemblance to a cup. Butterbur produces large leaves, which are up to 2 feet (or more) in width, having thorny edges. Butterbur bears lilac-pink hued small and tubular blooms during April and May.

As the leaves of butterbur are sufficiently large to shield an individual's head from sun and rain, the Greeks named the plant 'hat plant'.

In fact, the wide-brimmed hat, something similar to a sombrero, worn by Greco-Roman travelers was known as 'petasos' and, hence, the plant derived its name from it and it still remains in botanical use. In 1597, English herbalist John Gerard of Elizabethan period published his book on herbs 'Herball' which noted that the powder of the dehydrated butterbur root was blended with wine was an excellent medication to treat plague as well as other pestilential (tending to produce pestilence) ailments.

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The powder of butterbur root also served as a natural medication for treating intestinal parasitic worms, it was used in the form of a diuretic and also to promote menstruation. Gerard further wrote that this herbal powder was effective if it was sprayed on ulcerating sores.

In the following herbal convention, butterbur attained a name for being a wonderful medication to treat gravel (tiny stones formed in the kidney), as an antispasmodic as well as a remedy for colic.

A number of herbal medicine practitioners have recommended that applying a poultice of the fresh butterbur leaves or the leaves along with flowers externally to wounds to accelerate the healing process.

The dehydrated leaves of the herb have also severed as an alternate for tobacco - although an especially ordinary and displeasing substitute. People who have smoked the dried leaves of butterbur in a pipe have said that it has a disagreeable flavour.

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Butterbur is generally found growing in damp, swampy lands, in humid forests and alongside streams and rivers. The butterbur leaves are said to be responsible for the herb common names. Butterbur's leaves are generally used to wrap butter during warm weather conditions.

Traditionally, butterbur has been employed in the form of an antispasmodic as well as analgesic (pain relieving medication), particularly for medical conditions related to the stomach, duodenum (portion of the small intestine) and bile ducts.

It is thought that butterbur facilitates in improving digestions and well as augmenting the blocked flow of bile. In addition, butterbur has also been prescribed for treating cramps and inflammation of the urinary tract.

According to convincing early evidence from trials undertaken with butterbur on humans, the use of the herb is also helpful in preventing migraine headache. In addition, there is also proof that says that using butterbur may help in preventing allergic rhinitis (allergy caused by exposure to allergen).

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Parts used

Aerial parts, root.


Butterbur possesses tonic/stimulant as well as expectorant attributes and it is also antispasmodic and analgesic (pain reliever) and works especially on the stomach, duodenum and bile ducts. This herb has been primarily employed to cure chest complaints, for instance asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough and fever.

Butterbur facilitates in improving digestions, especially when indigestion is caused by the obstruction of the flow of bile. In addition, butterbur is also prescribed to treat urinary tract inflammations. Externally, the herb is used in the form of a poultice to heal skin eruptions as well as wounds.

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Traditionally, butterbur has been used to provide relief from pain and prevent headaches. Presently, there is strong evidence that hints that use of butterbur also helps in preventing migraine headaches. Nevertheless, more evidence is required before this herb can be recommended for this purpose.

Generally, butterbur is regarded as a very useful natural medication to treat cough and latest researches have demonstrated that the herb possesses extraordinary analgesic (pain relieving) and antispasmodic attributes.

This herb encloses pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which in isolation, are noxious to the liver. In addition, butterbur is also highly effectual in treating gastrointestinal problems and biliary dyskinesia (spasms of the gallbladder and/ or its ducts).

Topically, butterbur may be employed in the form of a poultice to accelerate the healing of skin eruptions and wounds. The leaves of this herb are collected in the early part of summer, while the rhizome is dug up during the period between later summer and autumn. The leaves as well as the rhizome are dried out and stored for use when necessary.

The root or rhizome of butterbur is also used to prepare a homeopathic medication, which is employed in treating severe as well as stubborn cases of neuralgia (spiky and spastic soreness the length of the course of a nerve).

Infusions prepared with the leaves and rhizome of butterbur are prescribed to cure coughs, hoarseness, get rid of intestinal parasites as well as to treat urinary problems. This herb was employed by the elders to cure spasms of the digestive tract related to colic, plaque fever and obstructions in the flow of bile.

They even applied the poultice prepared with butterbur leaves to heal rashes, wounds, swellings, distended veins and glands as well as to alleviate rheumatic pains.

Till date, butterbur is used to treat asthma, coughs and bronchitis. Herbalists also believe that the herb is a useful natural medication for treating spasms in the gastrointestinal system, infections of the urinary tract, acute chronic headache, seasonal allergic rhinitis as well as gastric ulcers.

However, here is a word of caution for those using or intending to use butterbur products. As this herb contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are highly toxic for the liver, use of this herb ought to be limited to commercially available products, as they do not contain the harmful alkaloids. However, it is commonly thought that most people are able to tolerate pyrrolizidine alkaloids well.

Habitat and cultivation

Butterbur is native to Europe and it prospers all over this continent. This herb can be found growing naturally beside roads and alongside banks of streams. The aerial parts of the herb are collected in summer, while the rhizome of butterbur is unearthed in spring or autumn.

Butterbur thrives in any common garden soil, but has a preference for deep fertile soil having rich humus content and is always damp, but never stagnant. This herb grows well in total sunlight, partial shade as well as complete shade. However, the herb grows best when planted in a shady location.

Butterbur plants may be grown in fairly rough grass that may be cut every year during autumn. It is quite difficult to evacuate the roots of this herb. It is advisable that when you are growing butterbur in your garden, you should only grow the male plants with a view to avoid undesired seedlings coming up throughout the garden.

The growth of butterbur plants are so thick and robust, having leaves that are about 75 cm in width, that practically no other plant is able to grow in the vicinity of this species. The plants are dioecious (male and female plants being different), it is necessary to grow plants of both the sexes close by if your require seeds of the plant.

Butterbur is generally propagated by its seeds, which are sown in a cold frame immediately when they are mature or in the early part of spring. You need to only cover the seed in the cold frame and ensure that the compost never becomes dry. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently to be handled, prick them out individually and plant them in separate pots.

The young plants may be transplanted in their permanent position outdoors during the summer. This species may also be propagated by division and the divisions thrive during any time of the year. Propagating butterbur through divisions is quite simple. Make large divisions and plant them directly into their permanent positions outdoors.

It is advisable that you should not grow the smaller divisions in pots, but grow them in gentle shade in a cold frame till they are properly established. When they are well established, plant them outdoors either during the later part of spring or early summer.


Chemical analysis of butterbur has revealed that the herb encloses a volatile oils, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (especially senecione), pectin, sesquiterpene lactones, inulin (contained by the root) and mucilage.

The principle active elements of butterbur include petasin, two sesquiterpenes and isopetasin. In effect, the antispasmodic qualities of the herb that help in lessening spasm in the vascular walls and smooth muscles are attributed to petasin.

Besides, petasin also helps in offering an anti-inflammatory result by means of slowing down the synthesis of leukotriene. The extracts obtained from butterbur also enclose tannins, flavonoids, pyrrolizidine alkaloids and a number of volatile oils.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are considered to be highly poisonous for the liver and carcinogenic (any substance that has the propensity to result in cancer) in animals. In effect, the butterbur extracts available commercially do not contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are removed from before.

Usual dosage

Therapeutically, the root of butterbur is used in the form of a decoction. To prepare the decoction, add one teaspoonful of the dehydrated root in a cup (250 ml) of water and boil the mixture. Subsequently, allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes and filter the liquid. The standard dosage of butterbur tincture is taking 1 ml to 2 ml of it thrice every day.

Side effects and cautions

Although the use of butterbur is considered to be safe for use as a natural medication, scientists are yet to study this herb extensively to come to a conclusion regarding the side effects caused by the plant or its toxicity profile.

Collection and harvesting

The butterbur rhizome, which possesses therapeutic properties, is unearthed during the summer, while the leaves of the herb are collected all through the growing season of butterbur.


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