Headaches / Migraines
One of the most common and enduring uses of this herb is as a prevention and treatment for crippling migraine headaches. Many studies have been conducted which bear this out, with the American Headache Society and the American Academy of Neurology both endorsing the use of Butterbur extract to reduce the frequency of migraines.
In a 2004 study, researchers split 245 patients into three groups and gave them either 75mg of Butterbur extract twice a day, 50mg of Butterbur extract twice a day, or a placebo. After a four-month treatment period, the patients taking 50mg of Butterbur extract experienced a modest reduction in migraine frequency relative to placebo users. Among those taking the 75mg dosage, more than two-thirds reported that their incidence of migraine attacks had diminished by at least 50 percent.
Butterbur’s effectiveness at preventing headaches and migraines is likely to stem from its anti-inflammatory and muscle-relaxant effects. It contains active components known as isopetasin, oxopetasin, and petasin, which induce smooth muscle relaxation, particularly in cerebral blood vessel walls. Research indicates that petasin in particular inhibits the pro-inflammatory lipoxygenase (LOX) enzyme, while both petasin and isopetasin exert highly potent anti-inflammatory effects.
Furthermore, Butterbur extract has also been reported to inhibit cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) activity. COX-2 is an enzyme that acts to speed up the production of chemical messengers called prostaglandins which play a key role in in promoting inflammation. Inhibition of this enzyme relieves pain and inflammation. Additionally, Butterbur petasins decrease the intracellular concentration of calcium, thus offsetting calcium-induced vasoconstriction, which helps to relax and widen blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely to the brain.
Butterbur has also been studied for its effectiveness in the treatment of allergies, especially in cases of allergic rhinitis (more commonly known as hay fever). This type of allergic reaction is caused by the immune system releasing histamines and leukotrienes which can cause inflammation of the lining of the nose, leading to sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes.
The active ingredient in Butterbur, petasin, seems to act as a leukotriene receptor inhibitor, helping to prevent or relieve an allergic reaction. At clinics in Germany and Switzerland, a double-blind study involving 131 patients confirmed that Butterbur is just as effective as its pharmaceutical counterpart at calming nasal allergies, with none of the drowsiness associated with antihistamines.
Research has found that the anti-inflammatory action of Butterbur is also effective at relieving asthma symptoms. It has been shown to improve lung function in patients with chronic asthma and chronic bronchitis. In a study involving 64 adults and 16 adolescents, who were given Butterbur extract in addition to their normal asthma medication, 83 percent of patients showed an improvement in their symptoms.
In another study 16 asthmatic patients were given a combination of Butterbur and inhaled corticosteroids. The results showed a reduction in inflammation compared to those treated with corticosteroids alone.
There are multiple compounds in Butterbur that are thought to contribute to the relief of asthma symptoms. In particular, the active compound iso-s-petasin may be acting as a bronchodilator, (relaxing and widening the airways).
Folklore and history
With large, parasol like leaves, Butterbur's botanical name Petasites is thought to derive from the Greek word petasos, referring to the Thessalian sun hat worn by the ancient Greeks. It was used in ancient Greece to soothe the GI tract and to provide relief from asthma attacks. Its common name is stems from its use to wrap butter - the large heart shaped leaves helping to keep butter from melting in warm weather.
In the 16th century, Butterbur root was dried, powdered and mixed with wine to fight the plague and other virulent diseases. Nicholas Culpeper wrote in his book "English Physician" (1652) that Butterbur root was “very available against the plague, and pestilential fevers, by provoking sweat”.
In Germany, another old name for the plant was "Pestilenzenwurt". This name was given as an indication of its value as a remedy in times of pestilential calamity.
Butterbur has a long history of traditional use stretching back at least 2,000 years. Its medicinal use was recorded by the famous botanist and physician Dioscorides in 65 AD, who recommended it for skin ulcers and gastrointestinal complaints.
Later, in medieval times it was used to treat symptoms of the bubonic plague, including fevers and other symptoms. The botanist Henry Lyte referred to Butterbur as the “plague flower” in his book “Herball”, written in 1578.
Butterbur Purple Root Tea
Use 1-2 teaspoons of Butterbur Purple Root per cup of boiling water and simmer for 3-10 minutes to extract the active constituents. Then strain and serve.
Butterbur contains the sesquiterpenes; isopetasin, oxopetasin, and petasin, which are believed to be the active constituents responsible for pharmacologic activity.