Butterbur is most commonly found in damp, marshy ground and on riverbanks. Bearing the latin name of “petasites hybridus” it can be found in Europe, Asia and North America. It is also known as langwort, bog rhubarb, plague flower, pestroot and umbrella leaves.
Butterbur has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes. The Greek physician Dioscurides (circa 40—90 AD) used butterbur leaves to treat skin diseases and inflammation. In medieval times, Butterbur was considered one of the few effective treatments for symptoms of the black death, and Native Americans have traditionally used it as a remedy for fever and headaches.
Today, butterbur is most commonly used to treat migraine headaches, hay fever, asthma and allergies.
Butterbur for Migraines
A clinical trial of 202 patients found that after one month of taking 75 mg of petasites twice per day, the number of migraines was reduced by 38% from baseline. Three months later after consistent use of petasites, the number of migraines was reduced by 51%.
A similar study on childhood migraine sufferers found that butterbur was an effective preventative treatment of migraines in children, as those treated with the herb over time showed substantial reduction of attack severity and frequency.
Butterbur for Asthma and COPD
There is some evidence from animal studies that suggests that butterbur may prove to be a potent natural treatment for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients. This is good news for those sufferers who are looking for alternatives to steroids for treatment of these conditions.
Butterbur for Hay Fever and Allergies
Several controlled double-blind studies have proven butterbur to be a potent therapy for seasonal allergies, and as a treatment it has been compared favorably to drugs like Allegra or Zyrtec, while avoiding the sedative effects associated with those drugs.
Butterbur may not be for you if you’re allergic to ragweed, however. Although they look very different, these plants are in the same family, so taking butterbur may cause a more severe allergic reaction if you have an allergy to plants in the ragweed family.
Don’t Try This At Home
Although butterbur is easy to find, it is not an herb you want to pick and eat. Butterbur plants naturally contain liver-damaging compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Butterbur extracts and supplements marked “PA Free” have this substance removed, and therefore are much safer to consume.