By Michael Tierra

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a perrenial shrub in the aster family that h as demonstrated a high deal of efficacy for the treatment of urinary incontinence, respiratory allergies and migraine headaches.

Because in its native state it contains varying amounts of liver-toxic pyrolizidine alkaloids (PA’s). Herbalists have tended in recent times to avoid its use. However a standardized CO2 extract by Weber & Weber international BmbH & Co., Germany has produced a quality butterbur extract free of PA’s.

This has led to a number of clinical trials for its use in treating migraine headaches, allergies and abnormal urinary frequency. From the results thus far, it is likely that butterbur would be effective for a number of other conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Petasites is a perennial shrub native to Europe, northern Africa and southwestern Asia. Growing up to 3 feet tall with leaves as large as 3 feet in diameter, it was once used to wrap butter during hot weather.

Butterbur Extract for migraine headaches

A double blind migraine study was published in Neurology in 2002. Researchers gave 202 migraine sufferers 100 to 150 mg of butterbur extract or a placebo twice a day. The butterbur suffers had 50% fewer migraines than usual while thos taking a placebo experienced only a 26% drop in migraine frequency. A similar and previous study in 2000 with 58 patients came up with patients reporting 50% fewer headaches while the placebo group had only 10%.

Butterbur for Allergies

Another study for respiratory allergy sufferers was published in Immunopharmacology last year with patients taking only 16 mg of the extract three times daily. After five days, their levels of histamine (which triggers runny nose, itchy eyes and other allergy symptoms) fell by 65% with patients reporting that they felt much better.

Butterbur for healthy bladder control

Embarrassment, fear of job loss and sexual embarassment caused by loss of bladder control is an issue that plagues nearly 30 million people in the United States. It can be a burden for either gender and at any age. The urge to urinate occurs when the smooth muscle of the bladder contracts without warning. A standardized extract of Butterbur sold as UROVEX, the same used for migraines and allergies, has been shown to minimize the frequent and sudden urge to urinate in animal studies as well as in human trial. In Vitro studes show that Butterbur extract may reduce bladder cell irritation by inhibiting leukotriene synthesis. The smooth muscle of the bladder contracts and relaxes based on the volume of urine in the bladder. The desire to urinate occurs when the bladder has reached about half its physiologic capacity. This desire is supposed to be naturally suppressed by the cerebral cortex until a suitable time and place is chosen. The antispamodic properties of butterbur relax the detrusor muscle of the bladder which effectively restores normal or near normal urination urges. This same antispasmodic property of butterbur make it very effective for removing non-obstructive bladder and gall bladder stones.

In one study, 24 women were given 50 mg of butterbur extract three times daily for 8 weeks. After three weeks 17 women reported a significant reduction of frequency of urination. Before taking butterbur urination occurred as often as every 30 to 90 minutes after three weeks the duration was 90 to 150 minutes.

Normally I emphasize a traditional approach using the whole herb. However, pyrolizidine alkaloids which are plant derived liver toxins, can gradually accumulate over the course of weeks or months leading to a deadly condition known as veno-oclusive disease (VOD). It is obviously aggravated by repeated ingestion of plants containing PA’s which include heliotrope, senecio, comfrey, coltsfoot and petasites. Because few autopsies occur after death, it is very possible for such a condtion as VOD to go undetected. The problem is further complicated by the fact that different plants and even the same plant growing in different soils may contain varying amounts of the alkaloids and there is a wide range of susceptability to PA’s in people. Traditionally, herbs that contained PA’s such as comfrey, coltsfoor and butterbur tended to be used acutely or for shorter peiords of time. Again with PA’s causing accumulated or no toxicity.

Planetary’s unique ‘˜full spectrum’ process, combining extract with whole herb will not work with butterbur. It is sold in 50 mg soft geled capsules. There are few things that are either all bad or all good, Butterbur is an example where science and herbaism come together to make a superiod product.

I’m happy to say that the finest quality Butterbur extract is available from our Planetary Herb Products store.


Wang, Guei-Jane et al. 2002. Ca2+ channel blocking effect of iso-S-petasin in rat aortic smooth muscle cells. European Journal of Pharmacology. 445(3) : 239-245. Brune, Kay et al. 1993. Gastro-protective effects by extracts of Petasites hybridus: the role of inhibition of peptido-leukotriene synthesis. Planta Medica 59 : 494-496. Bickel, Daniela et al. 1994. Identification and characterization of inhibitors of peptidoleukotriene- synthesis from Petasites hybridus. Planta medica 60 : 318-322. Thomet, OA et al. 2001. Role of petasin in the potential anti-inflammatory activity of a plant extract of petasites hybridus. Biochemical Pharmacology 61 : 1041-1047. Bauer, H.W. and U. Danesch. 1995. Therapeutische Aspekte in der Urologie mit Petadolex (Therapeutic aspects in the urology with Petadolex) Presse Symposium München 10/18/95.

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