Find migraine relief with butterbur: this herb helps migraine sufferers and may also ease seasonal allergies – Herb Brief

Find migraine relief with butterbur: this herb helps migraine sufferers and may also ease seasonal allergies – Herb Brief / News and Notes

Rachel Snyder

BUTTERBUR’S LARGE HEART-SHAPED leaves were once used to wrap butter in warm weather to prevent it from melting. Prescribed in Germany for more than 30 years for migraine sufferers, the herb has only recently been considered as an allergy treatment.

How It Works

Researchers theorize that butterbur’s main active ingredients, petasin and isopetasin, inhibit the production of leukotriene, a substance that inflames blood vessels. Without that inflammation, migraines are less likely. Butterbur also inhibits the production of histamine, keeping your nasal passages open and relieving allergic congestion.


Human studies of butterbur as both a migraine and an allergy remedy are preliminary.

In a double-blind study in Neurology in 2002, researchers gave 202 migraine sufferers 100 or 150 mg of butterbur extract a day or a placebo. After 12 weeks, those taking 150 mg reported 48 percent fewer migraines than usual. Patients taking 100 mg experienced 34 percent fewer migraines, and those taking a placebo had a 26 percent drop in migraine frequency.

In a double-blind study in Headache in 2000, 58 patients with migraines took 50 mg of butterbur extract or a placebo twice daily. The butterbur group had 50 percent fewer migraines than usual after 12 weeks, while the placebo group dropped only 10 percent.

In a study in the International Journal of Immunopharmacology last year, patients with nasal allergies took 16 mg of butterbur extract three times daily. After five days, their levels of histamine (which trigger runny noses and other allergy symptoms) fell by 65 percent, and patients reported that they felt better.

How to Take It

Butterbur plants contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) that may be toxic to your liver, says Mark Blumenthal, Ph.D., executive director of the American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas. He suggests using pills with the PAs removed or with a daily dose of no more than 1 mcg of PAs. You can buy safe pills from some pharmacies and natural food stores or on websites like

To reduce your number of migraines, Alexander Mauskop, M.D., director of the New York Headache Center in New York City, suggests taking 75 mg twice daily with food. You should feel results within a month. Continue taking until you’ve had a one-month period free of headaches, and then stop. Restart as needed.

To treat allergies, preliminary studies suggest taking 8 mg of butterbur four times daily for no more than two weeks at a time, says Gregory Garcia, N.D., L.Ac., naturopath, acupuncturist, and the chair of mind-body medicine at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore.


PA-free pills appear to be safe, with no adverse side effects. Consult your doctor before taking the herb if you have liver or kidney problems. Don’t take it if you’re pregnant or nursing.

Health Claims

Proponents say butterbur (Petasites hybridus) reduces the frequency of migraines (although it doesn’t treat them once they occur). Recent research suggests it may also remedy seasonal allergies.

The Bottom Line

Research suggests that butterbur is effective for migraines. Further research is needed to confirm its value as an allergy treatment.

Rachel Snyder is a freelance writer in Boston.

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