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Butterbur Extract

Annette McDermott
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN

Butterbur extract is made from butterbur, a pinkish purple-hued, flowered shrub. It's a natural remedy for several ailments that has been around for centuries, but there are a few things you should know before using butterbur.


Butterbur earned its name from the practice of wrapping butter in its large leaves to stay cool in warm weather, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCAAM). It's found in Europe and parts of North American and Asia, usually growing in wet, marshy areas.

Butterbur extract is made from the stems, leaves, and roots of the butterbur shrub.

Medicinal Uses

According to an article on the American Botanical Council's website, written by Heather S. Oliff, PhD, butterbur contains two primary active ingredients: Petasin and isopetasin. Petasin is believed to have an anti-spasmodic effect by reducing smooth muscle spasm; Petasin and isopetasin are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. As a result, many natural health practitioners use butterbur extract to treat urinary problems such as urinary spasms and irritable bladder, chronic cough, kidney stone obstruction, and menstrual cramps.

Information published at PubMed indicates that butterbur extract has been studied for its effectiveness in treating migraines and allergies.

  • Migraines: Two double-blind, placebo controlled studies determined butterbur extract seems to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches with no significant side effects. A dosage of 75 mg twice a day seemed to be most effective; however, more study is needed to determine the proper dosage.
  • Allergies: Double-blind studies suggested butterbur extract is as effective as some antihistamines in treating hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis. Although not all studies performed used a placebo and it's unclear how butterbur's antihistamine properties function, the studies support the herb's ability to treat seasonal allergies.
  • Asthma: An open, non-randomized study on 64 adults and 16 children determined that butterbur extract is "an effective and safe therapy" for asthma by assisting in reducing the inflammation of airways. The study results suggest butterbur helps reduce the number, severity and duration of asthma attacks when used with other asthma therapies and as a stand-alone treatment. However, NCCAM states on its website that more study is needed to prove butterbur's efficacy in treating asthma.

Side Effects and Interactions

Butterbur contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, chemical substances toxic to the liver and that may be carcinogenic. However, these substances can (and should be) removed. Do not take butterbur extract that has not had its pyrrolizidine alkaloids removed.

WebMD mentions the following side effects and cautions about butterbur on their website:

  • Do not use butterbur on broken skin.
  • Side effects of butterbur extract include belching, headache, fatigue, itchy eyes, diarrhea, upset stomach, asthma, and drowsiness.
  • Pregnant or nursing women should not use butterbur extract.
  • Butterbur may cause allergic reaction in people allergic to the Asteraceae/Compositae family which includes chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies.
  • Butterbur may worsen liver disease.
  • Butterbur may interact with medications that increase the breakdown of other medications in the liver including carbamazapine, phenobarbital, phenytoin, rifabutin, and rifampin.

Butterbur should not be taken while consuming alcohol.

Recommended Dosage

Studied dosages of butterbur extract for allergic rhinitis, asthma, and migraines is 50 to 75 mg twice a day, says Studies were done on individuals six years and up. Butterbur has not been studied in children under the age of six.

NCCAM states on its website that studies show PA-free butterbur extracts are "safe and well tolerated when taken by mouth for recommended doses for up to 12 to 16 weeks." The effects of taking butterbur for longer than four months have not been studied.

How to Use

Butterbur extract is often used in powdered capsule form but may be found in tincture, tea, or powder forms. It is also used topically. No matter what form is used, it's imperative to use extract free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Look for products that are labeled "PA free" or "pyrrolizidine Alkaloid free," and buy from sources that are reputable.

Proven Natural Remedy

Research has proven butterbur deserves notice for its effectiveness against some illnesses. It can be a safe option for people looking for a natural alternative to treat debilitating migraines and seasonal allergies.

Before using butterbur for any medical condition, consult your doctor to discuss your specific situation and determine if taking butterbur is right for you.

Butterbur Extract