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"Butterbur" redirects here. For a character in The Lord of the Rings, see Barliman Butterbur.
Petasites hybridus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Senecioneae
Genus: Petasites

About 15–20 species; see text

The plants commonly referred to as Butterbur are found in the daisy family Asteraceae in the genus Petasites. They are mostly quite robust plants with thick, creeping underground rhizomes and large Rhubarb-like leaves during the growing season. Another common name for many species of this genus is Sweet Coltsfoot.


The short spikes of flowers are produced just before the leaves in spring, emerging with only a few elongated basal bracts and are usually green, flesh coloured or dull white depending on species.

Butterburs are found in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere. They prefer moist environments such as riverbanks, marshes and ditches.

Petasites is very closely related to the genus Tussilago (Coltsfoot), and also related to the huge genus Senecio.

Medicinal uses[edit]

Butterbur contains components called pyrrolizidine alkaloids,[1] which are toxic to the liver and may cause cancers.[2][3] The concentrations are often highest in the rhizomes and stalks, and lowest in the leaves, and may vary depending on where the plants are grown. Butterbur extract should be taken only when prepared by a reputable laboratory. Long-term health effects and interaction with other drugs have not been studied.

Butterbur was used by Native Americans as a remedy for headache and inflammation.[citation needed] Some Butterbur species contain the chemicals petasin and isopetasin which are believed to have potential benefits in treating headaches. The highest concentrations occur in Butterbur root. Butterbur root extracts have been reported to be effective in reducing frequency and severity of migraine headaches.[4] Several double-blind studies have shown that high doses of extracts of Petasites hybridus root, presumably containing petasin and/or isopetasin, are effective both in preventing and in relieving migraine, with the best results coming in more severe cases, but with gastrointestinal side effects.[5] The American Academy of Neurology and American Headache Society now endorse butterbur for preventing migraine headaches with a Level A recommendation (based on at least two strong clinical trials).[6]

Additionally, a study showed Butterbur extract to be an effective treatment for hay fever without the sedative effect of the antihistamine cetirizine, if taken four times daily.[7]

According to Mayo Clinic’s ‘Book of Alternative Medicine, second edition, 2010: Ch. 3, Pg. 50 “Some studies indicate participants who took butterbur were able to significantly decrease the number of migraine headaches. Other studies suggest that butterbur may alleviate the stuffiness of nasal congestion of hay fever. However due to the small sample sizes and short duration of these studies, the results can only be considered preliminary. Additional research is needed.” {sic}

Selected species[edit]

White butterbur


  • Petasites × vitifolius


  1. ^ Fu, P.P., Yang, Y.C., Xia, Q., Chou, M.C., Cui, Y.Y., Lin G. (2002). "Pyrrolizidine alkaloids-tumorigenic components in Chinese herbal medicines and dietary supplements". Journal of Food and Drug Analysis 10 (4): 198–211. 
  2. ^ Maxim Hirono I., Mori H., Yamada K. "Carcinogenic activity of petasitenine, a new pyrrolizidine alkaloid isolated from Petasites" Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1977 58:4 (1155-1157)
  3. ^ Smith, LW; Culvenor, CC (1981). "Plant sources of hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids". Journal of Natural Products 44 (2): 129–52. doi:10.1021/np50014a001. PMID 7017073. 
  4. ^ "Evidence-based guideline update: NSAIDs and other complementary treatments for episodic migraine prevention in adults. Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society.". Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society. Neurology 2012 Apr 24;78(17):1346-53. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  5. ^ Lipton RB, Göbel H, Einhäupl KM, Wilks K, Mauskop A (December 2004). "Petasites hybridus root (butterbur) is an effective preventive treatment for migraine". Neurology 63 (12): 2240–4. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000147290.68260.11. PMID 15623680. 
  6. ^ Holland S; Silberstein, F. Freitag; et al. (24 April 2012). Neurology 78 (17): 1346–1353 |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  7. ^ Schapowal, A.Schapowal A; Petasites Study, Group (19 January 2002). "Randomised controlled trial of butterbur and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis". BMJ 324 (7330): 144–6. doi:10.1136/bmj.324.7330.144. PMC 64514. PMID 11799030. 

External links[edit]