Botanical Name: Ruscus aculeatus
Other Common Names: Knee holly, pettigree
Family: Asparagaceae (including Ruscaceae), and in the broad sense Liliaceae
Plant Part Used: Rootstock/rhizome
The butcher's broom (Ruscus aculeatus) is a small evergreen shrub which is native to western Europe. (1,2) The tough leaf-like branches (known as phylloclades) have been used to assemble makeshift brooms, hence the common name.
Butcher's broom root was traditionally regarded in Western herbal medicine as a diuretic, diaphoretic, laxative and expectorant and used to treat dropsy, urinary obstruction or gravel, dysuria, edema, ascites, jaundice, difficult breathing and for removal of phlegm. It was used both orally and locally for the treatment of hemorrhoids (3,4) The fluid clearing effect of this plant is clearly highlighted in the traditional literature, with reference to butcher's broom as "much recommended by Dioscorides and other ancient physicians as an aperient and diuretic." (3)
In recent times, butcher's broom has been the subject of several scientific investigations, including clinical trials. The research has focussed on its antiedema and venotonic properties, which make it an effective therapy for symptoms associated with varicose veins and hemorrhoids (similar to the horsechestnut with which it combines well). In Europe, proprietary preparations of butcher's broom are commonly used for varicose veins and hemorrhoids and the extract is often combined with other ingredients, especially hesperidin methylchalcone and ascorbic acid. (Hesperidin is a flavonoid which has beneficial activity on capillaries.)
The rhizome contains steroidal saponins (0.5-1.5%) containing the aglycones ruscogenin and neoruscogenin and their glycosides (which are of the spirostanol and furostanol saponin types). (5)
A preparation containing butcher's broom extract, hesperidin methylchalcone and ascorbic acid has been extensively studied in recent decades. Throughout this article this formulation will be referred to as butcher's broom extract combination.
A 1994 review of the pharmacological studies indicated that butcher's broom extract exerts activity on the three circulatory compartments involved in chronic venous insufficiency. The venoconstrictor effect, reinforced by temperature and hormonal impregnation is explained by its peripheral post-synaptic alpha-noradrenergic action. This action also explains the lymphatic activity observed in experimental models of lymphatic flow. A microcirculatory activity is also involved: it combines an inhibitory effect on capillary permeability, a protective action on the endothelium against hypoxia by stimulation of mitochondrial enzymes and an inhibition of the endothelial leukocyte adhesion found in models of ischemic reperfusion. The other constituents of butcher's broom extract combination, hesperidin methylchalcone and ascorbic acid, exert their effects mainly by reducing capillary permeability and increasing capillary resistance. (6)
Saponin constituents isolated from Ruscus aculeatus displayed anti-inflammatory activity on rat paw edema, but did not influence capillary fragility. Strong vasoconstrictor activity was observed on isolated blood vessels and the ruscogenins decreased capillary permeability in a rabbit model. (7) Ruscogenins failed to inhibit hyaluronidase activity in vitro, but exhibited remarkable antielastase activity. (8)
In research conducted in the 1950s and 1960s butcher's broom extract was found to relax isolated arteries and veins, reduce the vasoconstrictive effect of epinephrine (adrenaline), (9) and demonstrated...
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