Butcher’s broom, also referred to as knee holly, box holly and sweet broom, comes from the plant Suscus aculaetus, a short evergreen shrub that grows throughout southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Butchers once used the leaves and twigs of this member of the lily family to scrub their chopping blocks clean, thus conferring the name Butchers broom. The use of this herb as a tonic was recorded by the early Greeks, but fell into disuse until the 1950’s when new research popularized the properties of this herb in the west.
Modern herbalists now commonly use the leaves of Butcher’s broom as a circulatory tonic and antiinflammatory agent for a wide range of vascular problems. Consumed as a mildly bitter tea it is used to increase circulation to the limbs and acts to reduce the incidence of post-surgical thrombosis or blood clotting. Due to its mild diuretic action it is also employed to reduce swelling of the legs and is believed useful in the treatment of varicose veins and phlebitis. Applied as a topical ointment butchers broom is also used to ease the swelling and pains of arthritis and rheumatism, and formed into suppositories it is often employed as a treatment of hemorrhoids.
Researchers have confirmed that extracts of butcher’s broom contain several steroidal saponin compounds that work as vasoconstrictors by activating alpha-adrenergic receptors. The main glycosides in butchers broom are called ruscogenins, which are known to possess anti-inflammatory properties in addition to being vasoconstricive agents. These active ingredients reduce the fragility and permeability of capillaries and constrict the veins. Human clinical trials have supported the extracts effectiveness in treating vascular disorders, as well as its uses as an antiinflammatory agent.
Contemporary Herbals refer to butcher’s broom to support venous circulatory disorders (heavy legs) as well as hemorrhodal ailments. Practicioners also recommend butcher’s broom for supporting women experiencing menstrual problems and troubles associated with the use of estrogens and pregnancy related cramps.
Butcher’s broom is generally considered a safe herb when taken as a diuretic, though it may cause blood pressure to rise. Those under treatment for hypertension should use this herb under the supervision of a competent health care professional. Those currently taking anticoagulation medications should also check with their physician or health care provider before taking butchers broom to avoid problems.