Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Randomised controlled trial of butterbur and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 19 January 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:144

Rapid Response:

Allergies : The Case For Further CAM Research On Butterbur

Those of us 'Wellness Consultants' who have been successfully using
Butterbur for many years now, are not surprised at it's recent success in
a Randomized Clinical Trial against Cetirizine, for the treatment of
Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis (SAR) ; as warmly indexed under Andreas
Schapowal et al : BMJ, 2002 Jan 19;324(7330):144-6 ***

Infact , many of us consistently feel that Butterbur may also be
exceedingly efficacious in Perennial Allergic Rhinitis (PAR)...and a whole
host of other related conditions too.

The highly laudable fact that Butterbur does not have any sedating
properties , therapeutically adds more icing to the cake.

Without wanting to be seen as being 'immensely over-excited' about
these momentously inspiring results, permit me to humbly provide a few
widely known excerpts on Butterbur; as placed in the public domain by the
Alternative Medicine Review , way back in 2001.

Admittedly, the Butterbur sample sizes are not as huge as those
portrayed in many other trials, but at least we are warmly provided with a
very welcome 'start' in the exponentially expanding field of Complementary
and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Research.

Listen...and Learn.

Petasites Hybridus (Butterbur).

Source : Alternative Medicine Review , 2001.

Introduction : Petasides hybridus (butterbur) is a perennial shrub,
found throughout Europe as well as parts of Asia and North America, that
has been used medicinally for centuries.

During the Middle Ages butterbur was used to treat plague and fever;
in the 17th century its use was noted in treating cough, asthma, and skin

The plant can grow to a height of three feet and is usually found in
wet, marshy ground, in damp forests, and adjacent to rivers or streams.
Its downy leaves can attain a diameter of three feet, making it the
largest of all indigenous floras, and their unique characteristics are
responsible for the plant's botanical and common names.

The genus name, Petasites, is derived from the Greek word petasos,
which is the felt hat worn by shepherds.[2] The common name of butterbur
is attributed to the large leaves being used to wrap butter during warm
weather.[3] Other common names include pestwurz (German), blatterdock, bog
rhubarb, and butter-dock.[2]

Currently, the primary therapeutic uses for butterbur are for
prophylactic treatment of migraines, and as an antispasmodic agent for
chronic cough or asthma. It has also been used successfully in preventing
gastric ulcers, and in treating patients with irritable bladder and
urinary tract spasms.[2,4]

Active Constituents: Extracts of Petasites hybridus are prepared from
the rhizomes, roots, and leaves. The main active constituents are two
sesquiterpenes, petasin and isopetasin. Petasin is responsible for the
antispasmodic properties of the plant by reducing spasms in smooth muscle
and vascular walls, in addition to providing an anti-inflammatory effect
by inhibiting leukotriene synthesis.

Prostaglandins are important mediators in the inflammatory process
and isopetasin's positive impact on prostaglandin metabolism contributes
to the effectiveness of Petasites extracts.

Extracts of the plant also contain volatile oils, flavonoids,
tannins, and pyrrolizidine alkaloids. As these alkaloids are believed to
be toxic to the liver and carcinogenic in animals, extracts are available
in which the pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been removed.[2]

Mechanisms of Action:The active constituents of Petasites have an
antispasmodic effect on vascular walls and appear to have an affinity for
cerebral blood vessels. Petasites' ability to reduce smooth muscle spasm
suggests it may be a useful therapeutic tool in treating urinary
disorders, menstrual cramps, migraine headaches, kidney stone disorders,
obstruction of bile flow, as well as other liver or gastrointestinal
disorders associated with smooth muscle spasm.[1]

The anti-inflammatory properties of butterbur extracts are attributed
to inhibition of lipoxygenase activity and down-regulation of leukotriene
synthesis, and are primarily due to the petasin content.[5].

Clinical Indications:

*Migraine Headache :Two clinical studies using 50 mg of a
standardized Petasites extract twice daily for 12 weeks demonstrated its
effectiveness as a prophylactic treatment for migraines. Both studies were
double-blind, placebo controlled, and involved a total of 128 patients.
The results of the two studies showed a significant reduction (as much as
60%) in frequency of migraine attacks compared to placebo. Other
improvements in the Petasites group included a reduction in the number of
days with migraines per month, a decrease in migraine-associated symptoms,
and diminished duration and intensity of pain. No adverse reactions were
reported in either study. Butterbur extract's high degree of efficacy and
excellent tolerability accentuates its value in the prophylactic treatment
of migraines.[6,7]

*Asthma/Bronchitis :Various parts of the butterbur plant have been
used for centuries to treat bronchial asthma and whooping cough, and in
folk medicine the leaves of the plant were used as a mucus-reducing cough

Butterbur's ostensible effectiveness in treating upper respiratory
disorders such as asthma and bronchitis is attributed to the antispasmodic
properties of the petasin constituent. The plant's anti-inflammatory
action would also help calm the reactive airways seen in both asthma and

A Polish clinical study conducted in 1998 examined the influence of
Petasites on lung ventilation and bronchial reactivity in patients
suffering from asthma or chronic obstructive bronchitis. The study
included three test groups and two control groups. Test Group A exhibited
an improvement in forced expiratory volume (FEV1) three hours after an
oral dose of 600 mg Petasites extract. Group B experienced a significant
decrease in bronchial reactivity two hours after receiving an oral dose of
600 mg Petasites extract. Group C patients were treated for 14 days and
received 600 mg of the extract three times daily. Some patients (n=10)
were also given corticosteroids due to disease severity. All three groups
exhibited a decrease in bronchial reactivity, but the patients in Group C
who received no corticosteroids had the most pronounced results.[8] These
results indicate Petasites might be helpful in improving lung ventilation
in patients with asthma or chronic obstructive bronchitis.

*Gastrointestinal Disorders : Butterbur's use as an antispasmodic for
gastrointestinal conditions dates back to the Middle Ages. The leaves and
rhizomes were used to treat spasms of the digestive tract associated with
colic, plague, and bile flow obstruction.[9,10].

A German study conducted in 1993 found ethanolic extracts of
Petasites hybridus blocked ethanol-induced gastric damage and reduced
ulcerations of the small intestine caused by indomethacin, an anti-
inflammatory drug used to treat arthritic conditions. The results of this
study were attributed to inhibition of lipoxygenase activity and
leukotriene biosynthesis.[11].

Safety : Until recently, side effects from Petasites extracts had not
been reported. In September 2000, a study conducted in Taiwan noted the
petasin constituent, responsible for many of butterbur's pharmacological
properties, inhibited the production of testosterone in rat testicular
cells, but did not speculate whether this effect would be applicable in
humans.[12]. The plant's pyrrolizidine alkaloids are thought to cause
liver damage and to be carcinogenic in animals; however, extracts are
commercially available in which the pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been

There are no known interactions with either pharmaceutical or over-
the-counter anti-inflammatory agents; however, use of Petasites extracts
during pregnancy and lactation is contraindicated.[1].

Dosage : Typically, Petasites extracts are standardized to contain a
minimum of 7.5 mg of petasin and isopetasin. The adult dosage ranges from
50-100 mg twice daily with meals. When used to treat migraines,
administration is prophylactic and supplementation should be carried out
daily for four to six months and then tapered until migraine incidence
begins to increase. Dosage regimens for asthma and gastrointestinal
disorders are as yet undefined, dictating the need for further research.


[1.] Eaton J. Butterbur, herbal help for migraine. Nat Pharm

[2.] Mauskop, A. Petasites hybridus: ancient medicinal plant is
effective prophylactic treatment for migraine. Townsend Lett 2000;202:104-

[3.] Grieve M. Butterbur. In: Leyel CF, ed. A Modern Herbal,
electronic version. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc. 1971.

[4.] Reglin F. A clinical review: Petadolex [R] (Standardized
Butterbur Extract), Praxis-Telegram, Nr. 1/98:13-14.

[5.] Bickel D, Roder T, Bestmann HJ, Brune K. Identification and
characterization of inhibitors of peptido-leukotriene synthesis from
Petasites hybridus. Planta Med 1994;60:318-322.

[6.] Mauskop A, Grossmann WM, Schmidramsl H. Petasites hybridus
(butterbur root) extract is effective in the prophylaxis of migraines.
Results of a randomized, double-blind trial. J Head Face Pain 2000;40:4.

[7.] Grossmann WM, Schmidramsl H. An extract of Petasites hybridus is
effective in the prophylaxis of migraine. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther

[8.] Ziolo G, Samochowiec L. Study on clinical properties and
mechanism of action of Petasites in bronchial asthma and chronic
obstructive bronchitis. Pharmaceutica Acta Helvetica 1998;72:359-380.

[9.] Lindauerova T. Palynomorphological investigation of the species
Petasites hybridus and Petasites albus. Farmaceuticky Obzor 1981:50:569-

[10.] Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs.
Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 1998;183:365.

[11.] Brune K, Bickel D, Peskar BA. Gastro-protective effects by
extracts of Petasites hybridus: the role of inhibition of peptido-
leukotriene synthesis. Planta Med 1993;59:494-496.

[12.] Lin H, Chien CH, Lin YL, et al. Inhibition of testosterone
secretion by S-petasin in rat testicular interstitial cells. Chin J
Physiol 2000:43:99-103.

***Supporting BMJ Weblink :

Competing interests:
Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi MBBS MD MPH DSc FRIPH FACAM is also the Chairman of the General Wellness Assembly (GWA); an International Professional Body for Independent Wellness Consultants . He humbly invented the 'Omnipill'.

Competing interests: No competing interests

12 April 2004
Joseph . C . Obi
Professor Of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Research ;
School Of Natural Medicine , Larnarca , Cyprus , European Union .