What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Butterbur?

Butterbur can be found growing along rivers, ditches, and marshy areas in northern Asia, Europe, and parts of North America. It sends up stalks of reddish flowers very early in spring, before producing very large heart-shaped leaves with a furry gray underside. Once the leaves appear, butterbur somewhat resembles rhubarb—one of its common names is bog rhubarb. It is also sometimes referred to as "umbrella leaves" due to the size of its foliage. Other more or less descriptive common names abound, including blatterdock, bogshorns, butter-dock, butterly dock, capdockin, flapperdock, and langwort.

Butterbur is often described as possessing an unpleasant smell, but being malodorous hasn't protected it from harvesting by humans. The plant has a long history of use as an anti-spasmodic,...

A special toxin-free butterbur extract has been investigated for the treatment of a variety of illnesses. Two double-blind trials suggest that this butterbur extract may be useful for preventing migraine headaches . 1 2 In addition, meaningful evidence indicates that this extract is helpful for hay fever . 3 There is some evidence that butterbur has anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic effects, 4 and on this basis it has been proposed as a treatment for a variety of musculoskeletal pain conditions; however, meaningful clinical trials have not been reported. 5 Butterbur has also undergone highly preliminary investigation for treatment of asthma 6 and for protecting the stomach lining from injury, thereby helping to prevent ulcers . 7 Preliminary...

Safety Issues

In studies and postmarketing surveillance involving adults and children, burping and other mild gastrointestinal complaints have been the main side effect of butterbur extract. 8 Butterbur contains liver-toxic and possibly carcinogenic components called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. 9 Fortunately, it is possible to remove these compounds from butterbur products. 10 In Germany, the maximum allowable content of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in butterbur products has been set at 1 microgram per daily recommended dose.

Butterbur should not be used by pregnant or nursing women, young children, or people with severe kidney or liver disease, until further safety testing has been performed.