What Is It?
The stiff spines of butcher’s broom, an evergreen bush (Ruscus aculeatus) native to the Mediterranean region, were once popular for making brooms (hence the herb’s name). For centuries, people also consumed this herb, which is closely related to asparagus, as a vegetable.
Long famed as a folk medicine, butcher’s broom was also used for years in Europe for treating constipation, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and various gastrointestinal problems. Typically, the fleshy root of the plant was boiled and drunk as a tea.
During the twentieth century the plant’s use as a folk remedy began to fade until reports from France in the 1950s changed the thinking about this ancient herb. Investigators there found that dogs and hamsters treated with an extract of the plant’s underground stem experienced a narrowing of their blood vessels. Because this kind of action in the body has important implications for treating vessel diseases, butcher’s broom is today used to treat such conditions as varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
Also known as box holly, knee holly, and pettigree, butcher’s broom now grows in many parts of the world, including the southern United States. The dried root and rootstock are used in medicinal preparations.
The narrowing of vessels observed in small animal studies of butcher’s broom was eventually attributed to steroidlike compounds called ruscogenins and neuroscogenins in the plant’s rootstock. These compounds not only constrict veins, strengthening and toning them, but also lessen inflammation.
Today, over-the-counter butcher’s broom formulas for hemorrhoids and varicose veins sell quite well in Europe and are becoming better known in the United States.
Specifically, butcher’s broom may help to:
Treat varicose veins. The vein-narrowing qualities of butcher’s broom have been found to actually relieve the discomforts of varicose veins and other circulatory conditions (such as chronic venous insufficiency). Not only does leg pain resulting from insufficient circulation in lower limb veins often respond to treatment with butcher’s broom, but related symptoms (swelling, itching, numbness, cramping, and a sensation of heaviness) may subside as well. Several studies have demonstrated the herb’s ability to do this. One study looked at 40 patients with chronic venous insufficiency in their lower limbs (a condition closely related to varicose veins). Researchers reported that those who took butcher’s broom for two months (along with vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid, as well as hesperidin, a flavonoid) had an improvement in their symptoms; those who took a placebo (dummy pill) reported no improvement at all.
The FDA has not approved of butcher’s broom for circulation problems. However, German health authorities consider it valuable for lessening the itching, swelling, pain, and heaviness that can result from poor circulation in the lower body.
Relieve hemorrhoids. Rectal suppositories and topical ointments made from butcher’s broom are useful when dabbed onto itchy and painful hemorrhoids. The burning sensation often associated with hemorrhoids–actually vessels that have bulged out–may subside as well.
For hemorrhoids: Take 300 mg twice a day or 1 teaspoon liquid extract twice a day. You can also apply the liquid extract to a cotton ball and gently dab the affected area three times a day until the hemorrhoid recedes.
For varicose veins: Take 150 mg three times a day.
Guidelines for Use
Try taking butcher’s broom along with vitamin C to boost its effectiveness; several studies have shown that the combination increases the herb’s potency.
No reports of adverse interactions have been noted. In theory, however, butcher’s broom could interfere with the effectiveness of certain high blood pressure medications, such as doxazosin and prazosin. The same is true for various medications used in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Consult your doctor for guidance.
Combining MAO inhibitors with butcher’s broom poses a potential risk of increased blood pressure. Consult your doctor for specific advice.
Possible Side Effects
While no reports of toxic reactions have been reported, the safety of butcher’s broom has not been carefully examined.
Given its apparent ability to constrict vessels, people with high blood pressure or prostate problems should use the herb with caution.
The kinds of circulation problems popularly treated with butcher’s broom can be serious. Consult your doctor before using this herb for anything other than hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids 300 mg twice a day or 1 tsp. liquid extract twice a day
Varicose Veins 150 mg 3 times a day
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David Edelberg, MD