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Butcher's Broom by Aaron K. Thompson

Butcher's broom is a shrubby European plant that is a member of the lily family. The plant has rigid, branched, and spiny leaflike stems which bear a greenish flower and red berries. For hundreds of years herbalists have used butcher's broom in the treatment of various ailments . Although the exact pharmacologic mechanism of action of butcher's broom is still under investigation, the uses are abundant: edema of the legs, peripheral vascular disease, hemorrhoids, asthma, and jaundice; just to name a few.

PHARMACOLOGY . Butcher's broom contains 0.8-1. 5% quinolizidine alkaloids, principally sparteine. Sparteine inhibits the passing of sodium ions across the cell membrane and thus is an effective anti-arrhythmic substance. Sparteine is frequently used in its sulfate form as an oxytocic drug - a substance which stimulates contraction of the uterine smooth muscle. In addition, sparteine appears to extend the diastole.

Traces of coumarins can also be found in butcher's broom . Coumarins are used today as anticoagulants - drugs that "thin" out the blood. Butcher's broom also contains ruscogenin, neo-ruscogenin and flavonoids.

Butcher's broom seems to have a favorable effect on the legs. Veins constrict after consumption of the herb and swelling subsides. By acting directly on the blood vessels, butcher's broom increases blood flow and thus an increase in circulation is precipitated. Butcher's broom has been used as a diuretic in folk medicine and was believed to be a mild osmotic diuretic: a substance which draws water out of cells. Some people who consume butcher's broom capsules do in fact notice a urinary output increase.

Researchers in France have determined that butcher's broom contains compounds closely resembling steroids which may account for its anti-inflammatory action.

INDICATIONS . Butcher's broom may be effective in the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Edema of the legs. This herb is particularly useful for people who are on their feet for a long period of time in the course of a day. By drawing water out of cells and perhaps inhibiting electrolyte reabsorption in the kidney, butcher's broom helps to alleviate excess water retention in the feet and legs.

  • Leg discomfort. Butcher's broom contains compounds closely resembling steroids which help to reduce inflammation.

  • Peripheral vascular disease. By increasing circulation of the blood, butcher's broom may be of benefit in the treatment of disorders characterized by reduced circulation. Raynaud's disease & Buerger's disease are two such disorders.

  • Hemorrhoids. Butcher's broom is frequently combined with Witch Hazel as an ointment. When applied locally to the anus, butcher's broom may bring about tremendous relief from the pain of hemorrhoids.

  • Bronchial asthma. It has been reported that butcher's broom, when combined with black- or green-leaf tea, may improve inhalation and exhalation.

  • Poison immunity. Scientists have discovered that sparteine, one of the main components in butcher's broom, inhibits the proteins in snake venom and thus is a potent treatment for detoxification of some snake bites.

  • Varicose veins. Due to vasoconstriction and steroidal content, butcher's broom may help to alleviate the unpleasant symptoms of varicose veins.

  • Hypotension. Butcher's broom raises blood pressure and thus is a good treatment for individuals suffering from chronic hypotension. Sparteine extends the rhythmical expansion of the cavities of the heart during which they fill with blood and hence there is an increase in diastolic blood pressure.

Miscellaneous. Jaundice, functional disorders of the heart, kidney disorders. CONTRAINDICATIONS . Consumption of butcher's broom is not recommended in the presence of hypertension or during pregnancy. Sparteine may increase uterine contraction and thus is not recommended when hypertension or pregnancy is present.

INTERACTIONS . Concomitant administration of butcher's broom and an MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitor is not recommended. MAO inhibitors are drugs used to treat depression which work by inhibiting monoamine oxidase in the brain. Because butcher's broom contains tyramine, a phenolic amine derived from tyrosine, the combination of this herb with an MAO inhibitor may lead to an unfavorable effect on blood pressure.

DOSAGE. The recommended dosage of butcher's broom is between 1 and 1.5 grams per day. A tea can be made from butcher's broom by pouring boiling water over 1-2 grams of the herb and allowing the brew to steep for 10 minutes. Strain the tea and drink up to 4 cups daily. (Butcher's broom is a very bitter herb and thus capsules are preferred by many). Butcher's broom certainly is a fascinating herb. Its many uses make it an interesting substance to research. Please remember that the information in this article represents my views of this particular herb, as well as the views of other researchers. This information should not replace consultation with a qualified medical practitioner.


  • Elias, Jason, Shelagh Ryan Masline. The A To Z Guide To Healing Herbal Remedies. New York: Dell, 1995.
  • Heinerman, John. Healing Power of Herbs. Florida: Communications Corp., 1995.
  • Teedrogen. Herbal Drugs And Phytopharmaceutlcals. Stuttgart: MedPharm Scientific Publishers; Boca Raton, Fla., 1994.

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