Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)


Butterbur is a perennial shrub, found throughout Europe as well as parts of Asia and North America. It is usually found in wet, marshy ground, in damp forests, and adjacent to rivers or streams. The leaves of the plant are responsible for its botanical and common names. The common name is attributed to the large leaves being used to wrap butter during warm weather.
Butterbur has been traditionally used as an antispasmodic and analgesic (pain reliever), specifically for conditions afflicting the stomach, bile ducts, and duodenum (part of small intestine). Butterbur is believed to help strengthen digestion and improve obstructed bile flow. Butterbur has also been given for inflammation of the urinary tract and cramps. There is compelling initial evidence from human trials to suggest benefits in prevention of migraine headache. Evidence in support of use for allergic rhinitis prevention is also promising. Benefits have not been demonstrated scientifically for any other condition.
Use should be limited to commercially available products free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are generally believed to be well-tolerated.

Related Terms

Blatterdock, bog rhubarb, bogshorns, butcher's rhubarb, butterbur coltsfoot, butterburr, butter-dock, butterdock, butterfly dock, capdockin, coughwort, donnhove, European pestroot, exwort, flapper-bags, flapperdock, fuki, horsehoof, langwort, paddy's rhubarb, pestwurz, Petadolex®, Petadolor H, Petaforce®, petasites, petasites flower, petasites leaf, petasites rhizome, Petasitidis hybridus, Petasites officinalis, Petasites ovatus, Petasites vulgaris, petasitidis folium (flower), petasitidis rhizoma (rhizome), plaguewort, purple butterbur, sweet coltsfoot, Tesalin®, Tussilago farfara, Tussilago hybrida, Tussilago petasites, umbrella leaves, umbrella plant, western coltsfoot, wild rhubarb, ZE 339.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Allergic rhinitis prevention (Grade: B)
Comparisons of butterbur to prescription drugs such as fexofenadine (Allegra®) and cetirizine (Zyrtec®) have reported similar efficacy. These results suggest benefits of butterbur for prevention of allergic rhinitis. Additional study is warranted before a strong recommendation can be made.
Migraine prophylaxis (Grade: B)
Pain relief and headache prevention are traditional uses of butterbur. Current, available evidence is compelling enough to suggest benefits of butterbur for migraine prevention, although additional evidence is necessary before a strong recommendation can be made. Comparisons to other agents used for this purpose such as beta-blockers or feverfew have not been conducted.
Allergic skin disease (Grade: C)
There is limited human evidence in this area, although preliminary research suggests that butterbur may not suppress allergic skin reactions when compared to the prescription drug fexofenadine (Allegra®), which does suppress these reactions. Additional study is needed.
Asthma (Grade: C)
Butterbur was used historically to treat asthma, and initial human research suggests possible benefits. However, additional study is needed to make a firm recommendation.