Butterbur, (Petasites), is a perennial plant in the Asteraceae family, known for its large, broad leaves and clusters of small, pale flowers. Butterbur plants have large, heart-shaped or kidney-shaped leaves that can grow up to several feet across. The flowers are usually pink, white, or purple and appear in early spring before the leaves fully develop. It is native to Europe and parts of Asia and North America.

Butterbur Habitat

The best environment for Butterbur growth and survival are; marshes, wet meadows, damp roadsides, riverbanks and ditches.

The Butterbur plant

There are two kinds of Butterbur plants, which look almost identical:

Petasites hybridus (Common Butterbur):
This is the species most frequently used in Western herbal medicine.
Active Ingredients: This plant contains petasin, which is described as a bitter tasting compound.
Traditional Uses: The rhizomes (underground stems) of common butterbur have been traditionally used to address various health issues, including migraines, allergies, and respiratory conditions.
Concerns: Raw butterbur contains certain compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic to the liver. However, commercial butterbur supplements are typically processed to remove these potentially harmful substances.

Petasites japonicus (Japanese Butterbur):
This is the species mostly used in Asian medicine.
Traditional Uses: Like common butterbur, the rhizomes of Japanese butterbur have been used traditionally in some cultures for medicinal purposes.
Similarities and Differences: While Japanese butterbur shares some similarities with common butterbur, the two species have differences in their chemical composition.

History of Butterbur Use

Butterbur has been in use for over 2,000 years, mainly to treat headaches and seasonal allergies. The name Butterbur comes from the use of wrapping butter in its large leaves during the warm weather.

Butterbur has been used in traditional medicine for various purposes, and petasin is considered one of the key constituents responsible for its potential therapeutic effects.

In the sixteenth century, Butterbur as a dried powder was mixed with wine to fight in the battle against the plague and other virulent diseases.

It was also used as a treatment for worms as a form of diuretic, the spurring on of menstruation and by Native Americans as a herbal remedy for headache and inflammation.

Other uses were for urinary tract issues, wound healing and back pain.

Health Benefits of Butterbur

Each part of the Butterbur plant is very important. The leaves, roots, flowers and stems are all used for medicinal purposes in some way. For example, when taken orally, studies show a specific extract from the root of the Butterbur over a four month period can lessen the relentlessness of headache pain and the duration of these headaches as they occur. The leaf extract of Butterbur decreases nasal discomfort.

Studies show that Butterbur is currently most effective for the treatment of headaches and inflammation, severity of migraines and hay fever.

It is important to note that Butterbur has not been proven to treat all allergies, only seasonal allergies which include itchy eyes and noses, sneezing, runny noses and nasal congestion. Additional research is necessary to determine if Butterbur is safe and can eventually be used for year-round allergies such as mould, dust or animal dander.

Petasin Active Ingredients in Butterbur

Petasin is a bioactive compound found in the roots of plants from the Petasites genus, commonly known as butterbur.

Here are some key points about petasin:

Source: Petasin is primarily found in the rhizomes (underground stems) of Petasites species, particularly in Petasites hybridus (common butterbur).

Traditional Uses: Butterbur extracts, containing petasin, have been traditionally used for their potential anti-inflammatory properties. They have been explored for various health conditions, including migraines, allergies, and respiratory issues.

Migraine Management: Some research suggests that petasin may have a role in the management of migraines. Butterbur supplements, standardized to contain specific levels of petasin, have been studied for their potential efficacy in reducing the frequency and severity of migraines.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Petasin is believed to exert anti-inflammatory effects, which may contribute to its potential benefits in conditions involving inflammation.

Allergic Rhinitis: Butterbur extracts, including petasin, have been studied for their potential effectiveness in managing symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) without causing drowsiness.

Latin Name

Petasites hybridus

Common Names

Common butterbur, sweet coltsfoot, blatterdock, bogshorns, butter-dock, butterfly dock, capdockin, flapperdock, langwort, umbrella plant.

Properties of Butterbur

Roots: anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, cardio tonic, diaphoretic, diuretic
Leaves: analgesic

Butterbur is used for:

Headache, inflammation, severity of migraines, seasonal allergies such as itchy eyes, itchy and runny nose, and nasal congestion.

How to Take Butterbur

Butterbur can be taken in several different forms. It can be eaten, given as a powder, in pill form, in tea or as a tincture.

However, it is very imperative to note that Butterbur contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are toxic chemicals. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are created by plants to defend them against the feeding frenzy of insect herbivores. These toxic chemicals may cause liver damage or cancer to the liver. When purchasing Butterbur products, consult your physician first and make sure that your purchase is labelled: Pyrrolizidine alkaloid or PA-free. An effective dosage of Butterbur is 50 to 75 mg twice a day.

Where to Buy Butterbur


Always take care when taking herbs and Read Our Disclaimer.

Butterbur Herb Notes / Side Effects

Raw butterbur plant material contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic to the liver. However, commercial butterbur supplements are typically processed to remove these harmful substances. It’s crucial to use standardized and commercially prepared supplements and follow recommended dosages.

Always be aware that products used for medicinal purposes may contain side effects. Butterbur is not immune. Some side effects include indigestion, vomiting, headache nausea, diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain. Gastrointestinal problems, drowsiness and fatigue are additional side effects of using the herb Butterbur. Very serious side effects are considered to be jaundice, pain in the upper right of the chest, asthma, and swelling of the abdomen.

Please note that because this herb belongs to the Ragweed family, if you are allergic to Ragweed, you must not take this herb. This is also true if you are allergic to Chrysanthemums, Daisies or Marigolds. For allergic reactions to this herb, look for unusual conditions such as hives, swelling of the mouth, the throat or the lips, itching, skin rashes, wheezing or shortness or breath.

In depth research has not been presented about Butterbur’s interaction with other medication. This herb is not intended for pregnant or nursing mothers or for patients with kidney or liver disease. It can be purchased under the brand name Petalodex, Tesalin and Petaforce. As with any medical treatment, always consult your primary care physician to insure that this is the right treatment for you.

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