BUTCHER'S BROOM - HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES: HOW TO MAKE BUTCHER'S BROOM TISANE
Butcher’s Broom gets this name because butchers would tie the twigs together and clean their chopping boards with it. It was also used for cleaning chimneys and for repelling rats and mice especially from meat which was hanging to preserve it according to John Parkinson a British botanist (1567-1650). The names Box Holly and Knee Holly come probably from the facts that it grows to a man’s knee height and it has red berries which grow from the centre of its leaves like those of Ruscus hypophyllum and these resemble holly berries, although they can grow to the size of cherries. The flowers that precede the berries are green–white and small. It is a dioecious shrub, as are holly and European Mistletoe, meaning that the stamens and pistils are on different plants. It has prickly leaves like holly too, so you should be careful when handling it. It is a pretty room decoration and is often used in flower arrangements. Despite the name it is not related to either broom (Cytisus scoparius), or Spanish broom (Spartum junceus) as Butcher’s Broom is a member of the Liliaceae family.
It grows wild in the UK and Europe and spreads from the Mediterranean to Iran. In the 17th century in Britain, people dug it up from its natural habitat to plant in ornamental gardens, and it has remained a popular plant in these until now. The young shoots of this plant are edible and look a little like asparagus. However the plant has been employed for its medicinal properties for more than 2,000 years. It is an aperient or mild laxative, and has diuretic properties so has been traditionally used for edema (swelling of the legs due to water retention) and was a treatment for piles as it was considered good for the veins. In the 1950s researchers found that it might indeed be useful for the veins as it constricts them and is a blood thinner, so it improves blood circulation and heightens low blood pressure. (If you have high blood pressure then you shouldn’t use it.)
It contains some coumarins which appear to act as anti-coagulants (blood thinners) and also the saponins ruscogenin and neoruscogenin and has been approved for oral internal use by Germany’s Commission E for chronic venous insufficiency and haemorrhoids. Studies are still underway on Butcher’s Broom and its extracts, but it is thought that it might be helpful for orthostatic hypertension and as a cytotoxic agent.
Sparteine is also one of the constituents of Butcher’s Broom and this is an effective anti-arrhythmic substance and one which appears to contract the smooth uterine muscle. In other words it expands the heart’s cavities so they fill up with blood and so increases the diastolic blood pressure. Ruscogenin release noradrenalin in the blood vessel walls and improves the tone of both the venous and lymphatic walls so having an anti-edema effect. Ruscin is a ruscoside (steroidal saponins) in the plant which promotes sweating (a diaphoretic) and has a mildly laxative effect. It has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. The bioflavonoids give it antioxidant properties too, so it is a very beneficial herb.
Combined with Witch Hazel it is used to relieve the pain of piles and with black or green tea is used to relieve asthma as it is believed to improve respiration. Researchers think that sparteine may inhibit the toxicity of some snake venoms, and it is also thought to be beneficial for jaundice and to remove kidney stones.
The parts of the plant used in medicine are the whole plant including the roots. Nicholas Culpeper writing in the 17th century, wrote the Butcher’s Broom has a
“gallant cleansing and opening quality. The decoction of the root drank, and a poultice made of the berries and leaves applied, are effectual in knitting and consolidating broken bones or parts out of joint.”
He said that the root was commonly boiled with fennel and parsley and “smallage” and boiled in white wine, then drunk but he recommended grass roots to be added to this decoction. Interestingly glycolic acid is found in parsley, juniper berries and Butcher’s Broom.
Dioscorides writing in 1 AD and other ancient physicians believed that this plant was good as a diuretic, laxative, the urinary tract and for the kidneys. Later the Welsh physicians of Myddfai used it in their medications, along with scarlet pimpernel and other herbs for intermittent fevers, and in this remedy for summer fevers:-
“The mugwort, madder, meadow sweet, milfoil, hemp, red cabbage, and the tutsan, all these seven herbs enter into the composition of the medicine required. Whosoever obtains them all, will not languish long from a wounded lung, or need fear for his life. Any of the following herbs may be added thereto, butcher's broom, agrimony, tutsan, dwarf elder, amphibious persicaria, centaury, round birth wort, field scabious, pepper mint, daisy, knap weed, roots of the red nettle, crake berry, St. John's wort, privet, wood betony, the roots of the yellow goat's beard, heath, water avens, woodruff, leaves of the earth nut, agrimony, wormwood, the bastard balm, small burdock, and the orpine.”
The tisane below is for veins, blood circulation and other ailments mentioned above, though not for the ones mentioned by the old physicians. It’s a pleasant drink mixed with honey.
BUTCHER’S BROOM TISANE
1 pint boiling water
1 oz twigs and leaves of Butcher’s Broom
½ oz bruised fresh root
Pour the boiling water over the twigs or root and leave to steep for 15 minutes. Alternatively boil all together for 15 minutes.
Strain and drink up to 4 cups a day.
With honey it is good for respiratory problems including as an expectorant.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).