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Butcher's Broom
Latin Name:

Ruscus aculeatus

Family:

Liliaceae

Introduction

Butcher’s broom is a bushy evergreen subshrub that grows to three feet in height, with flat, leaf-like branches, disproportionate red berries and greenish-white flowers.1  It is native to the Mediterranean and Africa from the Azores islands, west of Portugal, to Iran.2  The rhizome, or root, is the most common part of the plant still used today.

History and Cultural Significance

The common name “butcher’s broom” came from Europe, where butchers would bundle the shrub into a broom to sweep their cutting blocks.3  Europeans have been using the shrub as a laxative and diuretic (to promote urination) for almost two thousand years.2  Many cultures soaked the rootstock in water or wine to help alleviate abdominal complaints. In first century AD, Greek physicians used butcher’s broom to treat kidney stones. In the seventeenth century, the English herbalist Nicholas Culpepper used butcher’s broom to help the healing of fractured bones. He recommended that patients take a decoction (made by boiling the plant’s woody parts) of the root orally along with spreading the berries of the plant topically over the fracture. The root of the shrub contains ruscogenen and neoruscogenin, both of which may have anti-inflammatory characteristics and cause contraction of veins.

Modern Research

Human studies have investigated formulations containing butcher’s broom for their effects on insufficient blood flow to the lower limbs.2  Butcher’s broom by itself has been studied for its potential vein-constricting action when applied locally.2  

Future Outlook

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network that is a joint program of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), states that wild collection of butcher’s broom in Turkey results in a harvest of 2000 tons of fresh roots per year, or 400 tons of dried material, primarily for export.4  The species has become locally extinct in certain areas of Turkey owing to over-collection and is among the ten most threatened medicinal plants in trade in Turkey. The collection of the species is subject to restrictions in France, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain indicating that the species is threatened in these countries also.4  Butcher’s broom is very hardy and easily grown in many locales. It is important that more commercial cultivation be implemented to take pressure off the wild stock.

References

1  Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.

2  Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.

3  Chevallier A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 1996.

4  Ruscus aculeatus L. Liliaceae. Species of Concern. Europe’s Medicinal and Aromatic Plants: Their Use, Trade and Conservation. Available at: http://www.traffic.org/plants/species-13.html. Accessed March 16, 2005.