Buchu

Scientific Name(S): Agathosma betulina (Berg.) Pillans (syn. Barosma betulina [Berg.] Bartl. & Wendl.) (short ouchu); B. serratifolia (Curt.) Willd. (long buchu); B. crenulata (L.) Hook. (ovate buchu). Family: Rutaceae. These plants should not be confused with "Indian buchu" (Myrtus communis L.), which is native to the Mediterranean regions.

Common Name(S): Bookoo, buku, diosma, bucku, bucco.

Buchu, is a small shrub native to South Africa where it is used as a popular flavoring agent to impart a peppermint-like flavor to brandies and wines. First used by the Hottentot tribe, it gained wide use in Europe and Africa where the dried leaves of Buchu have long been used as a folk remedy for the treatment of almost every known affliction.

Botany: Buchu is harvested from the dried leaves obtained from three species of Barosma. The species derive their common names from the shape of the aromatic leaf. The buchus grow up to 6 feet tall as low, bushy, drought-resistant shrubs with colorful blossoms. The leaves are described as yellowish green to brown, glossy and leathery, revealing oil-glandular dots on the underside. The three species produce oval, serrated leaves with the leaf of B. serratifolia being the longest and most slender. Harvesting of the leaves occurs in summer. Most commonly, B. betulina is used in commerce. Native to South Africa, buchu undergoes hillside cultivation. Odor and taste of the plants is described as spicy, resembling black currant but also reminiscent of a mixture tetween rosemary and peppermint. Buchu oil is some times added as a component of black currant flavorings.

History: The Hottentots employed the leaves for the treatment of a great number of ailments. Early patent medicines sold in the United States hailed the virtues of the plant and its volatile oil for the management of diseases ranging from diabetes to nervousness. The drug had been included in the US National Formulary and was described as a diuretic and antiseptic. Its use has since been abandoned in favor of more effective diuretics and antibacterials. Buchu remains a popular ingredient in over-the-counter herbal diuretic preparations.

Buchu was first exported to Britain in 1790. In 1821, it was sted in the British Pharmacopoeia as a medicine for "cystitis, urethritis, nephritis and catarrh of the bladder."

Uses of Buchu

Buchu has been used to treat inflammation and kidney and urinary tract infections; as a diuretic and as a stomach tonic. Other uses include carminative action and treatment of cystitis, urethritis, prostatitis and gout. It has also been used for leukorrhea and yeast infections.

Side Effects, precautions and warnings of Buchu

Buchu can cause stomach and kidney irritation and can be an abortifacient. It can also induce increased menstrual flow.

When taking buchu, you should increase your consumption of foods rich in potassium, such as bananas, various dark green vegetables, whole grains and fish. 

Women who are pregnant or nursing should not take therapeutic amounts of buchu and the herb should also not be used on young children. 

Topical application of the essential oil extracted from the buchu plant should not be used in aromatherapy.

Dosage

The German Commission E Monograph concludes there is insufficient evidence to support the modern use of buchu for the treatment of urinary tract infections or inflammation. However, some traditional herbal practitioners continue to recommend the herb for these conditions. Traditional recommendations for the herb include the use of 1-2 grams of the dried leaf taken three times daily in capsules or in a tea. Tinctures can be used at 2-4 ml three times per day.

Toxicology: There is little evidence to suggest that the casual intake of teas brewed from buchu are harmful. Poisoning has not been reported. Essential oil components diosmin and pulegone can cause GI and renal irritation. Pulegone is known tp be an abortifacient and to increase menstrual flow; therefore, use is not recommended during pregnancy. Pulegone is also a hepatotoxin, present in the plant "pennyroyal," in larger quantities.

Summary: Buchu leaves and extracts are recognized in herbal medicine as diuretics and weak antiseptics. Their use is a popular treatment of kidney and urinary tract infections and prostatitis. More clinical trials are needed to substantiate these claims. There is little known toxicity associated with the plant, but because some of its components are associated with uterine stimulation, it is not recommended during pregnancy.

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