Butterbur – info, planting, care and tips

Flower of butterbur (Petasites hybridus)
Flower of butterbur (Petasites hybridus)

The butterbur is an exceptional ground cover for the water’s edge and damp soils and is particularly recommended for larger gardens. Here are tips for planting and care.

Profile of butterbur:

Scientific name: Petasites hybridus

Plant family: daisy family (Asteraceae)

Other names: –

Planting time: spring

Flowering period: February to April

Harvest time: May to August; leaves, rootstock

Location: sunny to partially shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: allergies, asthma, bronchitis, cough, hay fever, intestinal cramps, menstrual cramps, migraine

Use in: groundcover, single position, group planting, pond planting, overgrowing, area greening, natural garden, water garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 4 (-32 °C / -25 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of butterbur

Plant order, origin and occurrence of butterbur

The perennial butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is native to Europe and belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae). Its natural range extends as far as Turkey and the Caucasus. To the north, it originally occurs as far as Scotland, while it has newly settled in Scandinavia. It is usually found on the banks of streams and rivers, where the spreading shrub finds ideal growing conditions.

Characteristics of butterbur


The butterbur flowers sprout very early in the year. Only later do the leaves push their way out of the creeping rhizome and become huge with time. They are among the perennials with the largest leaves in Europe and look very impressive in large stands.


Butterbur leaves appear only after the flowering. Within a few weeks, they grow to an enormous size. A leaf diameter of 60 centimeters (24 in) is not unusual. The single leaf is long stalked and felted gray like a cobweb on the underside. In their entirety, the leaves form a dense green roof over the ground.


The butterbur pushes its first, cylindrical flower shoots out of the ground as early as February. The reddish tinged, hollow stem has only small scale leaves and is densely covered with innumerable, petiolate capitulum flowers. It grows 25 to 40 centimeters (10 to 16 in) high. Of the reddish-white flower heads, there are those with functional male flowers and those with female flowers. The male flowers are about twice as long as the female ones. The plant is pollinated by bees and is an early, valuable nectar and pollen supplier for them.


After pollination, butterbur’s female flowers develop into cylindrical fruits. At the same time, the stems lengthen considerably, as the seeds have flying hairs and are spread by the wind.

Butterbur – cultivation and care


Butterbur prefers a soil-moist place in the sun or in partial shade – preferably near water, of course, since the air is also beautifully moist there.


As in nature, butterbur also loves damp, wet, nutrient-rich soil in the garden. It does not have good growth chances on too dry a substrate.

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)

Planting butterbur

If you want to prevent butterbur from spreading right from the start, you can line the planting hole with pond liner or a commercially available rhizome barrier as a precaution. You can expect to plant around three to four plants per square meter (10 sq ft) and it is best to plant in spring.


In a suitable location, butterbur can have a tendency to proliferate. To keep its growth in check, the unwanted rhizomes are cut off in autumn and removed from the soil. The best thing about it is that under its dense leaves no weeds have a chance, which makes weeding completely unnecessary.


When butterbur becomes a plague, its rhizomes should be divided and the population thus thinned out. The rhizomes are best cut off with a spade and then dug out.

Propagation of butterbur

Daughter plants can easily be obtained by dividing the rhizome. The best times for this are spring and autumn.

Diseases and pests

The young leaves of the butterbur are very popular with snails. Regular collecting of the pests and the use of ferramol slug pellets is advisable.


Butterbur is hardy down to -32 °C / -25 °F.

Use in the garden

Butterbur is an impressive waterside shrub and is best found near larger ponds or streams. On the other hand, it is also a great way to plant wet meadows for easy care. But always keep an eye on its growth, as it can spread in no time.


There are no cultivars of the species Petasites hybridus, but from the closely related species Petasites japonicus, which originates from Japan, the variety ‘Giganteus’ is on the market. Because of its huge and highly decorative leaves, which can reach a diameter of up to 150 centimeters, this variety is also called “Giant butterbur”. The winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) is also becoming increasingly popular, because of its intense vanilla scent. However, the winter-flowering plant originating from the Mediterranean region is more sensitive than the native butterbur and needs a warm, protected location. Black frosts and winter sun can damage the scented wonder, but a cover of brushwood can protect the plants well. Otherwise, it is also very uncomplicated and fortunately not quite as easy to spread as the butterbur.

Use as a medicinal plant

Butterbur is best used in the form of standardized extracts from which the potentially liver-damaging pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been removed.

Modern cultivars contain little or no pyrrolizidine alkaloids, so that preparations made from such plants can be used permanently without hesitation.

Application against migraine

Recent studies have shown that the curative use of butterbur can reduce the number of migraine attacks in migraine patients by about half.

To achieve this, butterbur is taken as a preventive measure over a longer period of time and not only during acute migraine attacks.

Butterbur’s effect against migraine is related to the relaxation of blood vessels in the brain, because migraine is caused by vascular spasms in the brain.

Hay fever and asthma

Butterbur has a similar effect as a medical antihistamine against allergies.

Therefore, it can be used against hay fever, for example.

Butterbur can also be used against asthma. In this application the antispasmodic effect is added to the anti-allergic effect.

Cramps in the digestive system

Just as butterbur can relieve cramps in the blood vessels, it also relaxes the digestive organs.

Butterbur extract is therefore effective against cramps and colic of the stomach and intestines.

It can also be used against a number of other complaints, such as heart failure, menstrual cramps or gout.


Externally, preparations from butterbur leaves or rootstock can be used against wounds and ulcers.

Butterbur can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • biliary tract
  • bronchitis
  • cough
  • cystitis
  • gout
  • hay fever
  • headaches
  • heart failure
  • inflammation of renal pelvis
  • intestinal cramps
  • irritable stomach
  • liver disease
  • menstrual cramps
  • migraine
  • rheumatism
  • sciatica
  • skin diseases
  • ulcers
  • urinary tract infections
  • wounds

Medicinal properties

  • analgesic
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antispasmodic
  • diuretic
  • expectorant
  • menstruation-promoting
  • reassuring
  • sweaty

Side effects

Not known.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

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