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Monday, March 7, 2011


Butterbur is the plant with the largest leaves in Britain as they can grow to 3 feet in diameter. They grow after the flowers have bloomed in April, which makes butterbur quite an unusual plant. Although it is huge it is related to coltsfoot, dandelions and yarrow. Its roots or rhizomes have been used for centuries to treat various ailments, but they are toxic and can damage the liver so it is not advisable to prepare the plant for any home remedies.
  Dioscorides writing in the first century AD said that the leaves when pounded were good to apply to ulcers on the skin. Much later in the 16th century, Gerard wrote: -
  “The root dried and beaten to a powder and drunk in wine is a soveraigne medicine against the plague and pestilent fevers, because it provoketh sweat and driveth from the heart all venom and evil heat; it killeth worms. The powder of the roots cureth all naughty, filthy ulcers if it be strewed therein.”
  In the 17th century the herbalist Nicholas Culpeper says: -
   “It is a great strengthener of the heart and cheerer of the vital spirits… the decoction of the root in wine is singularly good for those that wheeze much or are shortwinded…The powder of the root taketh away all spots and blemishes of the skin.”
This has subsequently been vindicated as modern medical researchers believe that butterbur can help those with asthma and hay fever. It has also been shown to be effective in preventing migraines and tension headaches. Research is also underway to verify other traditional uses for the plant which are to dispel kidney stones, to ease spasms of the urinary-genital tracts, the gastro-intestinal tract and the bile duct. The two most active ingredients so far identified are petasin and isopetasin, which have anti-inflammatory properties as well as anti-spasmodic ones. These may help in treating menstrual cramps and urinary problems. It is believed that petasin can lower the amounts of calcium that gather around the joints causing inflammation is diseases such as arthritis. So Gerard may have got it wrong but Culpeper was on the mark.
Butterbur leaves
  Because of the size of its leaves, they have been used to protect from the rain, and are like the hats with wide brims, worn by Greek shepherds in ancient times to keep off the sun and rain; such hats were called petasos. Butterbur is also called Lagwort in the UK perhaps because the leaves are delayed from appearing. It is also called bog rhubarb, referring to its likeness to that plant as the leaves are similar. It is also called by a variety of other names and was formerly called Petasites vulgaris. It is called butterbur because the huge leaves were used to wrap butter in to keep it cool in the summer months.
  There is an old superstition from the British Isles which says that if a young woman wants to see the man she will marry, she should get up before dawn and scatter butterbur seeds on grass slowly while reciting this verse.
    “I sow, I sow!
     Then, my own dear,
     Come here, come here
     And mow, and mow!”
Then a little way off she will see her future husband carrying a scythe but if she is frightened and asks for protection, he will vanish and she won’t marry him. If you think about this it is quite sexual and could be that as a virgin she is afraid of the sexual act, in which case, she won’t marry. Mowing and sowing were used as sexual terms in Shakespeare’s time.
Butterbur seeds
    In the UK butterbur has been traditionally used as a heart tonic and stimulant and as a diuretic and was used against the bubonic plague and other types of fever in the Middle Ages. While it is unlikely that these particular uses will be vindicated by modern medical science, the other more modern traditional uses might be.

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