- Butcher’s Broom
The herbal nomenclature is complicated by the fact that many herbal plants are called by the common name of broom; this indefinite and very common name clutters the entire range of herbal nomenclature and makes it hard to name specific plants.
Compounding the difficulty with common names is the fact that the moniker broom originally referred to several plants sharing a specific morphology, like the rigid leaves and tough stems – making them ideal for sweeping up debris aside from their herbal uses.
The plant known as the Cytisus scoparius L., which is a very common plant distinguished by showy yellow flowers and found growing along the roadsides in the Pacific Northwest is normally identified with the name broom when this word is used without any qualifying adjective.
Another yellow flowers legume, the Spanish broom or gorse – botanical name Spartium junceum L. is a shrub also normally identified with the name broom, this plant also grows in abundant blooms in many areas of the state of California.
The sensational herbal plant, the butcher’s broom which seems to be “sweeping the country” with its remarkable and famed herbal prowess at this time is a totally different herb. And while, the two “brooms,” Cystius scoparius and the Spartium junceum are both extensively used in herbal folk medicine, they are distinct species and must not be confused with the plant called the butcher’s broom.
The herb called the butcher’s-broom refers to a short evergreen shrub – botanical name Ruscus aculeatus L., belonging to the plant family Liliaceae, this plant is fairly common in this country and is known by other common names – the box holly and the knee holly.
The herb itself is a transplanted species and was originally a native plant found around the entire Mediterranean region from the Azores all the way to Iran in the Persian Gulf. The traditional and historical use of the butcher’s broom herb is also a long one and many cultures in areas where the plant grew native used it in a variety of herbal preparations.
The use of the butcher’s broom as a diuretic and laxative herb was suggested by the ancient Greek herbalist Dioscorides as early as the first century.
Nicholas Culpeper, the most famous of the herbal apothecary astrologer of the seventeenth century, recommended making an herbal decoction of the butcher’s broom root for drinking, this internal potion was to be used along with an herbal topical poultice made from the berries and the leaves to hasten the knitting of broken bones in people with fractures.
While the effectiveness of this combined treatment is not known, it is seldom listed in the standard references on herbal medications due to the fact, that this treatment strategy never did gain any recognition or popularity in either Europe or the United States and most herbalists ignore the method suggested.
At this time, in the United States, butcher’s broom herbal capsules, each of one contains 75 mg of the broom extract and 2 mg of rosemary oil are available in many health food stores and herbal stores.
There are campaigns directed towards the general public and the slogan “a proven European herbal formula, said to improve circulation in the legs,” is how one particular product is being advertised by the promoters.
The marketing campaign for another such product makes the assertion that “millions of Europeans report it works wonders-particularly for women who often complain about a ‘heavy feeling’ in the legs”, some of these claims can clearly be seen to be marketing gimmicks and cannot be trusted.
In addition, the butcher’s broom is a rather common plant and the claims by marketing promoters of it being a “rare” herb or it being very “hard-to-find” are patently false. Some of the benefits associated with the herbal products are however true and the plant can be used in the treatment of a variety of conditions.
Aerial parts, rhizome.
Though the herb has many proven beneficial effects on disorders such as varicose veins and hemorrhoids, it is not as widely used as it used to be before – the herb may soon regain its position as new evidence supports the remedial benefits attributed to it.
The diuretic action and moderately laxative property of both the aerial shoots and the rhizome is attested in the herbal traditions of Europe, where the herb used to be extensively used in these roles in the folk medicine.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
Many areas in Europe, western Asia, and North Africa have native populations of the butcher’s broom and the plant is cultivated in some of these places. This herb grows in the wild on uncultivated and non agricultural lands as well as in woodlands, in many countries the butcher’s broom is a protected species as wild varieties of the plant have become rare.
The butcher’s broom comes into fruit after the floral bloom in autumn, and the cultivated plants are gathered at this time – for processing, sorting and sale.
The ability to being about vasoconstriction possessed by an alcoholic extract of the butcher’s-broom rhizomes was demonstrated in test animals during the course of a French investigation on the clinical ability of the rhizomes – underground stems, the extract brought about significant narrowing of blood vessels in all the test animals during the study.
This property for vasoconstriction was due to the presence of mixtures of steroidal saponins in the extract, these active compounds were identified during further studies conducted on the rhizomes – the chemical compound ruscogenin and the compound neoruscogenin were identified as the two main saponins in the rhizome of the butcher’s broom.
These compounds seemed to directly affect the adrenergic receptors in the brain and the body, thus bringing about the vasoconstrictive effects in the test subjects.
Further investigations on the butcher’s broom rhizome has also been carried out in Japan, where the clinical researchers were able to isolate a total of twelve steroidal saponins from the herb, these compounds included seven new ones, and among these newly isolated saponins, significant cytostatic activity on leukemia HL-60 cells was found to be inducible by two of them.
The beneficial effects and clinical significance of the herbal butcher’s broom medication on venous disorders in humans have been given some support from the results derived in the limited clinical trials conducted on human test subjects. In other studies, the extracts of the butcher’s broom have been observed to show some anti-inflammatory effects, along with their already confirmed vasoconstriction effects.
The extracts of herbs such as the horse chestnut and witch hazel are marketed in many countries for their supposed beneficial effects on the venous circulation in humans, but European herbalist have increasingly started to believe that as far as these disorders are concerned, the butcher’s broom extract may be much more effective than these other herbs in treating patients – this has come about partly due to the results from the studies conducted on the plant.
The recognition of the potency of the butcher’s broom extracts has resulted in the availability of commercially marketed butcher’s broom extracts in the form of capsules, this is used in the treatment of circulatory problems affecting the legs, it is also used in the topical role as an ointment or herbal suppository to help alleviate the painful symptoms of hemorrhoids in affected patients.
The treatment of hemorrhoids is usually carried out using topical ointments and suppositories including those made from the butcher’s broom herb in many countries. Patients typically apply or insert these in the affected area before sleeping at night.
The treatment of systemic venous insufficiency in affected patients is usually carried out using the encapsulated butcher’s broom extracts, which are sometimes combined with vitamin C or flavonoids and taken at 1000 mg thrice daily during the treatment period.
If the encapsulated extract is not available, patients with venous insufficiency can also take 50-100 mg of standardized extract containing ruscogenins as a single dose on a daily basis.
Side effects and cautions
The Food and Drug Administration still does not approve the medicinal use of the butcher’s broom nor does it support any of the therapeutic benefits associated with this herb, since it has never been provided with proofs about its use as a therapeutic agent by the manufacturers of herbal products.
For this reason, even when some basis for cautious optimism about the potentially medicinal benefits of the butcher’s-broom exists, all would be consumers and patients must understand that all the therapeutic claims made for these products are illegal and have not been substantiated or proven.
At the same time, it is inadvisable to use the butcher’s broom remedy for circulatory disorders, or for that matter in treating any other potentially serious health problem, especially if this is carried out after self-diagnosis and the patient intends to self medicate – patients must always and without fail, consult a qualified doctor, whenever using herbal medicines, self-medication can be dangerous.
- From Wendy – Dec-22-2012
- I have used butcher’s broom and find it really helps the circulation in my legs and feet. I have not noticed any side effects and I have used it for a couple of years on a regular basis. I am a senior citizen.
- From Barbara McCarron – Mar-01-2011
- I made a cream using oil that was infused with butcher’s broom root and it really helped the pain that I have in my legs from varicose veins. I infused a combination of sweet almond oil and coconut oil with about 1/2 cup butcher’s broom root for 4 hours. This herb is really worth trying if you you have varicose veins. I was very impressed with the results.
- From Jane Doe – 2010
- As an herbalist I recommend all who suffer from chronic venous insufficiency to take butcher’s broom. I find that there is a link between chronic venous insufficiency and hemorrhoids, in that if a patient has either one they also tend to have the other.