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These plants, funghi and insect illustrations
are part of my botanical oracle deck

Petasites hybridus | Butterbur

Botanical Overview of Butterbur

  • Scientific Name: Petasites hybridus

  • Common Names: Butterbur, Bog Rhubarb, Devil’s Hat, Bladderwort

  • Family: Asteraceae

  • Description: Butterbur is a perennial herbaceous plant known for its large, broad leaves and dense flower spikes. The plant features rhizomatous roots that give rise to large, kidney-shaped leaves, which can grow up to 1 meter across, often appearing after the flowers. The inflorescences are dense clusters of small, tubular flowers that emerge in early spring before the leaves. The flowers are typically pink, purple, or white and grow on thick, fleshy stems. As the season progresses, the flower stems elongate and produce seeds with tufts of hair that facilitate wind dispersal.

petasites hybridus botanical illustration

Properties of Butterbur

  • Chemical Constituents: Contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, petasin, isopetasin, and sesquiterpenes. The petasin and isopetasin compounds are primarily responsible for its medicinal properties, particularly its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects.

  • Edibility: Butterbur is not generally considered edible due to the presence of toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can cause liver damage if consumed in significant amounts. However, there are traditional preparations, especially in Japanese cuisine, where young shoots are blanched and prepared in specific ways to reduce toxicity. Such consumption should only be undertaken with expert knowledge.

Distribution and Habitat of Butterbur

  • Native Range: Europe and parts of Asia.

  • Preferred Habitat: Butterbur thrives in moist, shaded environments such as riverbanks, stream edges, wet meadows, and damp woodlands. It prefers nutrient-rich, well-drained soils and can often be found in areas with a steady water supply. The plant is highly adaptable and can form dense colonies through its rhizomatous growth.

Medicinal Properties and Uses of Butterbur

  • Traditional Uses: Historically, butterbur was used in European folk medicine for treating various ailments. It was commonly employed as a remedy for fevers, coughs, and respiratory issues. The leaves and roots were also used to treat wounds, reduce inflammation, and as a general tonic for various health conditions. During the Middle Ages, butterbur was believed to protect against plague and other infectious diseases.

  • Modern Applications: Today, butterbur is primarily known for its use in treating migraines and allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Clinical studies have demonstrated that extracts of butterbur, specifically those containing petasin and isopetasin, can effectively reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. These compounds work by relaxing smooth muscle tissue and reducing inflammation, providing relief from the symptoms of migraines and sinus congestion. Butterbur is also used to alleviate symptoms of asthma and other inflammatory conditions. Due to the potential toxicity of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, it is crucial to use butterbur products that are processed to remove these harmful compounds.

Magical Correspondences and Uses in Magical Practice of Butterbur

  • Element: Earth

  • Planet: Saturn, Jupiter

  • Magical Properties: Protection, healing, purification, and resilience.

  • Uses: In magical practices, butterbur is valued for its protective and purifying properties. It is often used in rituals and spells aimed at warding off negative energies and providing a shield of safety. The large, expansive leaves can be employed in charm bags or as talismans to create a barrier against harm and misfortune. Butterbur's connection to healing makes it a popular choice in spells designed to promote physical recovery and strengthen resilience. Its purifying qualities are harnessed in cleansing rituals, where the plant is used to dispel negativity and restore balance. Additionally, the robust nature of butterbur, thriving in challenging environments, symbolizes endurance and perseverance, making it a powerful ally in spells focused on overcoming obstacles and achieving long-term goals.

Folklore, Legends, and Mythology of Butterbur

  • Historical Context: Butterbur has a long history in European herbal traditions, often associated with protection and healing. The plant’s large leaves were once used as makeshift umbrellas or to wrap butter, which is how it earned the common name "butterbur." In medieval Europe, butterbur was a popular remedy during outbreaks of plague and other infectious diseases, believed to provide protection and relief from symptoms.

  • Folklore: In folklore, butterbur was often linked to protection against evil spirits and bad luck. Its presence around homes or in gardens was thought to create a barrier against malevolent forces. The plant was also associated with fairies and other nature spirits, believed to be favored by these entities for its lush, shady leaves. Some traditions held that butterbur could bring good fortune and was used in various charms and amulets to attract prosperity and well-being.

  • Mythology: Although not prominently featured in classical mythology, butterbur's associations with healing and protection have made it a symbol of endurance and resilience in various cultural narratives. Its ability to thrive in wet, challenging conditions symbolizes strength and the capacity to flourish despite adversity. These qualities have linked it to themes of survival and recovery in folklore and magical practices.

Historical Literary Sources

  • "De Materia Medica" by Dioscorides: Provides early accounts of butterbur's medicinal uses and its role in treating various ailments in ancient herbal medicine.

  • "The Complete Herbal" by Nicholas Culpeper (1653): Discusses the uses of butterbur in early modern European herbalism, highlighting its applications for respiratory and inflammatory conditions.

  • "A Modern Herbal" by Maud Grieve (1931): Explores the medicinal and folklore aspects of butterbur, reflecting its continued importance in herbal traditions and natural medicine.


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