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Is Butterbur Safe?

Butterbur has been used as an excellent source of medicine for diseases like migraine, asthma, hay fever, etc. Even after being so useful, if an alkaloid called Pyrrolizidine is not taken out of it, it can cause diseases related to the lungs and the liver. Read more...
HolisticZine Staff
Butterbur are Small Eurasian herbs that have broad leaves and lilac-pink rayless flowers (definition). This herb is found in moist areas. It is also known as butterfly doc, flapperdock, Langwort, Umbrella Plan, blatterdock, Bog Rhubarb, Devil's Hat and Pestilence Wort. It is extensively found in Asia, North America, North Africa and Europe.
It has many medicinal uses and has been used as herbal medicines for centuries. Though it is being used as a commercial medicine only since a few decades.
Is It Safe?
No! Butterbur is not really safe. Butterbur's leaves, bulbs, and roots, all are used to make medicines. It is safe to use it only if the chemical 'Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids' (PAs) are removed from it. Butterbur herb has this chemical in it inherently; which is a toxin and it can be carcinogenic. Butterbur if used without removing the Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids from it, can cause hazardous problems to the liver and the lungs. Therefore, only those products that mention "Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids- Free" should be utilized.
What Does it Treat?
Because of its constituents, Butterbur can cure the following ailments.

1. Hay Fever
2. Migraine
3. Respiratory Allergies
4. Urinary Incontinence
5. Headache
6. Asthma
7. Stress
8. Stammering
9. Cough
10. Wounds
You maybe treating yourself for the above mentioned diseases, but if you were on herbal medication or you were consuming medicines that were not Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids- free, then check out the harmful effects listed below.
Harmful Effects
It has been observed that those who have consumed Butterbur in the past without removing the Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids from it, have faced the following listed problems.

1. Liver Problems like Cirrhosis, hepatitis and liver failure
2. Increases risk of cancer
3. Birth Defects
4. It can react with medicines you consume
5. Diarrhea
6. Burping
7. Stomach Discomfort
8. Skin Irritation
9. Drowsiness
Precautions
Don't Consume Butterbur if...

1. You have any problem related to the liver
2. If you are pregnant
3. If you are breastfeeding
4. If you have any sort of an allergy to a particular food, smell. Chemical, medicine etc.
5. If you are on any heavy medication
6. Don't use any of the medicines that does not clearly mention that the Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids have been removed from it
7. Don't consume herbal medicines with Butterbur used in them as they are not regulated medicines like other commercial medicines.
8. Do not use a Butterbur medication or a medicine with Butterbur for a long duration.
Properties of Butterbur
Butterbur's botanical name is 'Petasites Hybridus' and it is a perennial shrub. It grows up to three feet tall and its leaves are elephant shaped and can grow up to 3 feet in diameter. The name Butterbur comes from an old practice where people used Butterbur leaves to wrap butter in to save it from melting.
Constituents of Butterbur
Its constituents are Pyrrolizidine type alkaloids, which mainly are-
  • Senecionine
  • Integerrimine
  • Flavonoids-quercetin
  • Astragalan
  • Isoquercitrin
  • Petasin
  • Neopetasin
  • Tannins
  • Mucilage
  • Volatile oil
  • and Sesquiterpene
Petasin is that one constituent of the Butterbur which is considered as the main agent for curing ailments. Because of the petasin alkaloid inflammation is reduced, which in turn helps treat migraine by reducing the frequency of headaches and also heals stress and depression.
You can definitely use medicines that contain Butterbur roots prescribed by the doctors. But make sure that they are free from Pyrrolizidine alkaloid, or else don't consume it. Only buy medicines manufactured by reputed pharmaceutical companies, so that you can take some action if something goes wrong.
The famous herbalist Nicholas Culpeper called Butterbur as "a great preserver of the heart and reviver of the spirits". It can cure you and it can also ruin your health if enough care is not taken in choosing your medicines.