Butchers Broom, also known by the scientific name Ruscus aculeatus, is an evergreen shrub and a member of the lily family of plants. Butchers broom is of European origin, and is also known as pettigree, sweet broom, box or knee holly, and Jew's myrtle. The stiff, striated and thorny-leafed twigs of the plant were once bound and utilized by European butchers as tools with which to clean off their cutting boards, thus leading to the plant's most commonly used nickname. This low growing shrub now extends well beyond Europe, and is commonly found in the Middle East and in the southern United States.
The active medicinal substances found in butchers broom are coumarin, sparteine, ruscogenin and neoruscogenin. Coumarins are a vanilla-scented compound found in many plants which are used in a number of modern anticoagulant medicines. Sparteine is a naturally occurring alkaloid which acts to prevent sodium ions from passing across cell membranes, making them useful in combating arrthymia (irregular heartbeats). Sparteine is also useful as an oxytocin, meaning that it can be utilized to stimulate uterine smooth muscle contraction during labor. Ruscogenins and neoruscogenins are widely recognized by the medical community as useful anti-inflammatory agents, particularly in regards to inflamed hemorrhoid tissue.
While butchers broom has been recognized as a homeopathic treatment for a variety of ailments for the last 2000 years, it wasn't until the 20th century that the plant became widely used as a natural medicine. This was particularly the case during the 1950s, when studies concluded that the active substances found in butchers broom were effective in treating circulatory conditions. The coumarins present in butchers broom make it a useful additive in medications treating circulatory diseases and conditions (particularly as a blood thinner for those prone to clotting), and the sparteine present in butchers broom are effective in treating arrhythmia in its various forms, such as heart murmurs. Additionally, butchers broom is recognized as a valuable plant in regards to treating atherosclerosis, edema, peripheral vascular disease, and varicose veins. When used primarily for its ruscogenin and neoruscogenin content to soothe inflamed tissue, it is most often applied topically rather than as an internal dosage. When combined with black or green tea, dried butcher's broom can be used to alleviate the symptoms of bronchial asthma.
A safe, recommendable dosage of butchers broom falls somewhere between 1 and 1 1/2 grams per day. Users may choose to drink butchers broom tea, or avoid the bitter taste of the herb altogether by taking butchers broom extract in capsule form. Both the tea and the capsule form of the herb are readily available in health food stores and in the pharmacy sections of major chain supermarkets. Butchers broom is not considered toxic, and doesn't cause any side effects in and of itself, though its usage is not recommended for pregnant women or those suffering from hypertension due to sparteine's ability to induce uterine contractions. Those using an MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitor for depression are also advised to avoid butchers broom, as the herb will react to the presence of MAO inhibitor by spiking the blood pressure of the user.