Butcher’s Broom, a beautiful, hardy, and undemanding plant, has been familiar to Europeans for centuries. Used for various purposes, it has always been valued for its medicinal properties and health-protecting effects. These days it is sometimes advertised as a rare or unique plant; however, everyone who knows the basics of this herb can successfully grow it in his own garden and enjoy the benefits it offers.
Butcher’s Broom botanical name is Ruscus aculeatus, but the herb is better known as Knee Holly, Pettigree, or Jew's Myrtle. It belongs to the Lily (Liliaceae) family, similarly to Asparagus. This herb is an evergreen shrub, not exceeding the height of 38-46 inches. It has rough erect striated stems with the attached to them false sessile stiff leaves, which are actually the extensions of the stem. The latter are lance-shaped with spiny tips.
The plant is quite unusual and beautiful thanks to its small flowers, which grow right from the center of the leaf, a single flower on a leaf. The plant blooms in early spring. The blossoms are greenish-white with six petals, stamens and pistils being on different plants; thus, male and female shrubs should grow close together for the fruits to appear. The latter are cherry-like small and red berries. They ripen in September and remain on the leaf all winter long.
The central rhizome of Butcher’s Broom is long and thick with multiple woody rootlets. Being odorless, it has a bit sweet taste at first, but then turns out to be slightly acrid.
Butcher’s Broom originates from the extensive Mediterranean region. It is a very hardy plant, which can tolerate almost any condition, any type of soil and temperature. It often grows abundantly on the wastelands, woods, and bushy places. Ruscus aculeatus perfectly tolerates deep shade and dry soil, as well as coastal cliffs. In many countries beyond its native region it is cultivated for different reasons and purposes.
Medicinal properties of the herb are enclosed in the chemical structure of the rhizomes; thus they are collected and dried to be used in herbal remedies combinations. Occasionally aerial parts of the plant are used for medicinal purposes as well.
The most popular and widely used form of Butcher’s Broom remedy is capsules where this herb’s extract is combined with Rosemary oil or other components. Standardized extract, decoction, and topical cream forms are also available. Ruscus aculeatus can be used externally as poultice, ointment or suppository.
Butcher’s Broom is a diuretic, vasoconstrictor, mild laxative, anti-inflammatory and depurative agent. Research shows that its vasoconstriction effect is due to the presence in the root extract of such compounds as steroidal saponins, namely ruscogenin and neoruscogenin, which affect brain receptors responsible for the narrowing of blood vessels. As a result of their activity, the decrease in the vascular fragility is observed, as well as the additional anti-inflammatory effect is reported. That explains the use of the herb for the treatment of circulatory disorders.
Herb’s flavonoids (for example, rutin) also have a positive impact on the vessels, strengthening their walls and improving blood flow to the brain, hands, and legs. Glycolic acid is another valuable constituent of Butcher’s Broom. It has diuretic action and promotes weight loss.
A composition of chemicals in the plant’s rhizomes, as well as in the aerial parts, is responsible for the health benefits observed due to the use of Butcher’s Broom. However, having been in the scope of scientific research for relatively short period of time, little is known about the action and influence of every particular ingredient in the plant on the human wellbeing.
For centuries Butcher’s Broom had been used to treat a variety of health disorders: ancient enhanced the healing of the bone fractures, cured dropsy, urinary obstructions, kidney problems, jaundice and gravel with the herb’s remedies. Gout, kidney and bladder stones, as well as chilblains were also effectively reduced with Butcher’s Broom.
Root preparations can be used to treat varicose veins, hemorrhoids, atherosclerosis, and constipation. They may also clear the chest from phlegm, thus relieving difficult breathing. Moreover, Butcher’s Broom may be helpful in fighting obesity, rheumatism, headache, and menstrual problems, although the treatment of these conditions is relatively poorly researched.
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