Butterbur for Migraines: an introduction

Butterbur comes from the Butterbur plant (Petasites hybridus), which is a perennial shrub found in Europe, Asia and parts of North America. It grows in wet, marshy soil, damp forests and along rivers and streams.

It has long been used as an herbal treatment for migraines, the plague, asthma, ulcers, wounds, allergies and skin infections. The best evidence, based on studies and trials, is for its use in migraine and allergy sufferers. Originally, the plant’s root was used. However, higher levels certain potentially toxic ingredients were found in the root. Now, supplements use only the leaves.

How Butterbur works

The substances petasin and isopetasin are found in Butterbur. They work to reduce spasms and reduce inflammation. These actions are thought to help prevent migraines and reduce migraine headaches.

Studies on Butterbur and Migraines

One 2004 study found that Butterbur worked better at relieving migraines than an inactive placebo treatment. Here’s a breakdown of the patients in the four-month study. These migraine sufferers said their migraine attack frequency was reduced by :

  • 48% with Butterbur 75 mg
  • 36% with Butterbur 50 mg
  • 26% with Placebo


Formulations available

Butterbur is sold as

  • Capsules
  • Extracts
  • Powders
  • Tinctures (an alcoholic extract of the plant’s leaves)
  • Softgels

Side effects and other precautions

Because Butterbur is a natural remedy and not a pharmaceutical drug, the is limited data available on how it works in the human body as well as the possible side effects. There is no information available on use of Butterbur longer than 12 to 16 weeks. Some studies have found that people taking Butterbur experience the following side effects:

  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Upset stomach
  • Hair loss
  • Depression or neurological disorders
  • Skin or eye discoloration
  • Skin and allergic reactions
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing or exhaling
  • Itchy eyes
  • Halitosis, bad breath
  • Itching
  • Discolored stool
  • A condition called reversible cholestatic hepatitis, which means bile can’t flow properly from the liver because of swelling or blockage
  • A possible increase in liver enzymes

As with any natural remedy, prescription or over-the-counter treatment, you should first check with your doctor before taking Butterbur to learn if it might interact with anything else you’re taking or learn if it will have a dangerous impact on any condition you have.

Who should not take Butterbur

If you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant or nursing, do not take Butterbur

If you are taking other agents that contain the same active ingredients as Butterbur, such as borage, gravel root and ragwort

If you have liver disease, congestive heart failure, are on blood thinners, barbiturates or blood sugar lowering medications

If you take any medications in the anticholinergics/antispasmodic class, which are used to relieve cramps or spasms in the stomach, intestines, and bladder

If you are allergic to any plants in the P. hybridus or Asteraceae/Compositae family

As always, the best source for advice on treating your migraines is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your physician. Again, this information should in no way substitute or be mistaken for medical advice.