Fisherman's House, Moesgaard, in December

Fisherman's House, Moesgaard, in December
Fisherman's House, Moesgaard, in December

Monday, October 17, 2016

Petasites / Common Butterbur, DK: Rød Hestehov

Petasites hybridus/photo grethe bachmann
Petasites hybridus

Butterbur / Rød Hestehov is in English also called  Pestilence wort, Bogs Rhubarb or Devil's Hat, in Danish Pestilensurt or Tordenskræppe. It is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the daisy family Asteraceae, native to Europe and northern Asia. The preferred habitats are moist, fertile soils, often by rivers, streams and in wet meadows. Synonyms include P. officinalis, P. ovatus, P. vulgaris and Tussilago petasite.

Another name is Sweet Coltsfoot. The Latin Petasides is derived from petasos, the Greek word for the felt hats worn by shepherds with reference to the large size of the leaves. The Danish name Hestehov means Horse's Hoof , also a reference to the large leaves. The English name Butterbur is supposed to have been given it because formerly the large leaves were used to wrap butter in during hot weather.
In the Middle Ages it was called Pestilensurt in Denmark, an indication of its value in time of the plague. The 'plague-flower' gained a succesful reputation among the few remedies during the time of the Black Death. It was used as a remedy against the plague by the monks in Denmark during the 1300s.

The flowers are produced in the early spring, before the leaves appear. They are pale pink, with sev
eral inflorescenes clustered on a 5–20 cm stem. The leaves are large, on stout 80–120 cm tall stems, round, with a diameter of 40–70 cm with petioles up to 1.5 m. Butterbur has special value for the bees because of the early flowering. In some districts the plant is considered  a landscape-weed, since it is able to spread heavily in optimal conditions.



Helix pomatia/ photo grethe bachmann
Red Hestehov was originally introduced in Denmark as a medical plant, maybe during the black death. It now grows wild from earlier cultivation by castles, manors, klosters and ruins. The plant is a characteristic mark for the gardens of these places, often together with the Helix pomatia (Burgundy snail), probably brought to Denmark by the monks in the Middle Ages. A snail dish was a favorite meal in the klosters






Hans Christian Andersen wrote about the huge leaves of Hestehov in the fairy tale "The Ugly Duckling":"In the midst of the sunshine there stood an old manor house that had a deep moat around it. From the walls of the manor right down to the water's edge great burdock leaves grew, and there were some so tall that little children could stand upright beneath the biggest of them. In this wilderness of leaves, which was as dense as the forests itself, a duck sat on her nest, hatching her ducklings. She was becoming somewhat weary, because sitting is such a dull business and scarcely anyone came to see her. The other ducks would much rather swim in the moat than waddle out and squat under the burdock leaf to gossip with her......."



Petasites hybridus/ wikipedia

The Danish name Hestehov refers to the leaves = like the hoof of a horse. Actually it was originally referring to a colts foot. Another Danish name is Tordenskræppe ("Thunder rumex"). The thunder name might be because the leaves were used as a protection in a thunderstorm -  or it was  referring to the flowering in the month of March, the month of the Thundergod, Thor. It might also refer to the size of the leaves and the rumble from heavy rain upon them.


In the Middle Ages it was known as Niels Bugge's Blood and Niels Bugge's Roses after king Valdemar's most dangerous opponent, the magnate Niels Bugge of Hald was murdered in the town Middelfart in 1359. This indicates that the plant was introduced in Denmark around that time. After hostile negotiations with king Valdemar Atterdag the Jutland magnate Niels Bugge of Hald was killed by fishermen at Middelfart, supposedly on the king's orders - according to the legend at a place near the king's castle where now grow many butterburs. The commoners believed that Niels Bugge's blood fled over the leaves, leaving the dark spots,  and the plant could never be destroyed. Three houses in the street were forever fined, the socalled Buggesmoney, which the town Middelfart paid right up to 1874, where the Danish parliament abolished the unusual punishment 

Petasites hybridus/photo grethe bachmann
In Denmark grow 5 species of Hestehov, most of them considered as introduced. Especially the Red Hestehov (P. hybridus) causes problems, among other places by water streams. Locally the Japansk Hestehov (P. japonicus) can also be very spread, while the White Hestehov (P. albus) is less common.Red Hestehov is considered invasive and can be defeated by mowing and grazing. When Red Hestehov withers in the autumn, the soil gets exposed, and when the plant grows along water streams this exposure of the soil might create erosion along the water in winter, due to that there are no plants to protect the banks and to hold on to the soil. Still in only few places the Red Hestehov is considered serious landscape-weed. In several communes the plant is not existent or very few.
Five Petasites in Denmark:
Petasites albus = White Hestehov
Petasites hybridus = Red Hestehov
Petasites japonicus = Japansk Hestehov
Petasites fragrans = Vellugtende Hestehov
Petasites spurius = Filtet Hestehov 

Black Death/wikipedia
Folk Medicine: The plant came originally to Denmark as a medical plant in the Middle Ages. It is known from the Viking period in the Aarhus-area. The crushed leaves were used against plague-abscesses and wounds in the Middle Ages, later the plant was/is used against cough, cramps and pain in stomach and  abdomen. Beer-essence from the roots was drunk against gout
Simon Pauli 1648: "Butterbur  has a special hidden power to resist the infection from plague". At the pharmacies was made an essence from the root, which was taken in together with  hartshorn jelly. This medicine was better than the pulverized root or a decoct of it. The extract could also be used against malaria.  

Hartshorn jelly or a decoction of burnt hartshorn in water was used to treat diarrhea. Hartshorn was used to treat insect bites, sunstroke, stye  and snakebites. When people went outdoors they chew the root as a protection against infections, especially in the days of the black death. From the plant oil was made a balm which was placed into a container, which delivered a good scent in times of the plague  - or people rubbed their nostrils and temples with the balm as a protection.The leaves were bound around the legs in order to remove dropsy. The root of Petasites was written into the pharmacopoeia in 1772. Tea of Petasites was sold at the Danish pharmacies still in 1946.
Livestock: The root was used against liver and lungdisease of horse. A part of vinegar and beer decoct against the swine disease in 1600-1700. The leaves were also used as cattle fodder, evt. mixed into the hay. 
Play: Children used the big leaves as an umbrella or as a an apron.

Gerard writes of the Butterbur:
'The roots dried and beaten to powder and drunke in wine is a soveraigne medicine against the plague and pestilent fevers, because it provoketh sweat and driveth from the heart all venim and evill heate; it killeth worms. The powder of the roots cureth all naughty filthy ulcers, if it be strewed therein.'

Culpepper says:
'"t is a great strengthener of the heart and cheerer of the vital spirits: . . . if the powder thereof be taken in wine, it also resisteth the force of any other poison . . . the decoction of the root in wine is singularly good for those that wheeze much or are shortwinded.... The powder of the root taketh away all spots and blemishes of the skin. " Another species are known as the Winter Heliotrope, or Sweet-scented Coltsfoot (P. fragrans)

Potential medicinal uses (see wikipedia for more info)

Preliminary trials have shown a preparation of Butterbur root to be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. A commercial extract Petasol butenoate complex
ZE 339) has proved helpful for allergic rhinitis An evidence-based 2005 systematic review including written and statistical analysis of scientific literature, expert opinion, folkloric precedent, history, pharmacology, kinetics/dynamics, interactions, adverse effects, toxicology, and dosing is available
from the Natural Standard Research CollaborationButterbur extracts may contain harmful alkaloids if the preparations are not carefully and fully purified. These chemicals are toxic to the liver and may cause cancers. Thus, due to the potential for contamination, taking butterbur supplements is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It is safe practice to consume butterbur extract that has been prepared by a reputable laboratory.Long-term health effects and interaction of butterbur with other drugs have not been well documented. (Please read further information in wikipedia about Butterbur)



Source: Brøndegaard, Folk og flora, Dansk etnobotanik.

photo grethe bachmann
photo from wikipedia 

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