A native shrub of the Mediterranean area, Ruscus Aculeatus is more commonly known as Butcher’s Broom. Other common names include Knee Holly, Kneeholly, Sweet Broom, Jew’s Myrtle, and Sweet Broom. The names Knee Holly and Kneeholly came about because this shrub reaches to the height of the average-sized man’s knee. Today, it is commonly grown by gardeners in the United States and parts of Europe, particularly southern England. It can be cultivated by seed or more quickly by dividing the roots.
Oddly enough, the Ruscus Aculeatus resembles both the asparagus and the lily, members of the Ruscaceae family. The nickname Butcher’s Broom came about because tiny bunches of this plant had been used to sweep cutting boards clean from the debris leftover after cutting meat. It was also used to help keep mice from eating meat that was being preserved for later use. It resembles holly as well, although the two plants are not related; its tough leaves are prickly to the touch with small spines at the ends of each leaf.
Ruscus Aculeatus is a low-growing evergreen plant with the capability of reaching 2 feet 7 inches in height. However, rare specimens of this plant have reached a height as tall as 3 feet. In the spring, the shrub produces tiny greenish-white flowers that grow individually. When fertilized, the flowers, which are dioecious, produce scarlet berries that ripen in the fall month of September. The berries remain on the shrub throughout the entire winter without falling off. Therefore, branches of the plant are sometimes broken off for decorative purposes.
The Ruscus Aculeatus shrub requires soil that drains well, including sandy, loamy, and clay-based soils. Since it can thrive in dry or moist soil, it prefers woods and bushy locations, and is very drought resistant. It prefers semi-shade to full shade as an optimal growing environment; however, it grows well in both types of shady areas.
The stems are edible when they are still young, and are sometimes used as a substitute for asparagus. However the taste is pungent and sometimes bitter. Roasted seeds from this plant are used to make a substitute for coffee, also bitter in taste.
In Europe, the roots and stems of the Ruscus Aculeatus have been used for centuries to induce bowel movements and reduce the inflammation of hemorrhoids. The plant has also been used for its capabilities as a diuretic to reduce water retention. It has also been ingested in order to treat a variety of disorders including jaundice, kidney stones, bladder stones, and gout. During ancient times, it was commonly used to treat dropsy and urinary problems.
The rhizome or root is quite thick and goes deeply into the ground, so it must be dug out. The root and stems are dried and ground to a powder that could be taken internally or used topically. Although the roots do not produce an odor, they initially appear to offer a sweet taste, which then turns sharply acrid in flavor. The entire shrub is gathered for medicinal purposes, sometimes being made into a poultice that is then applied to the skin.
Although Butcher’s Broom has a history in traditional herbal medicine, it is not as commonly used in such procedures as it used to be. It has been used topically to treat varicose veins and hemorrhoids due to its potentially anti-inflammatory capability created by the saponin glycosides (neoruscogenin and ruscogenin) found in it. The capillaries and blood vessels contract and tighten, relieving the pain associated with both varicose veins and hemorrhoids. As a result, the extract from this plant has been used to relieve the discomfort of itching and muscle cramping as well. Moreover, this extract has been found useful in reducing the appearance of under-the-eye dark circles, spider veins, and the redness that occurs with the skin condition rosacea. Therefore, it is found in various skincare formulas designed for these purposes.
Although adverse side effects have not been discovered with the use of this product, it is not currently recommended for individuals who suffer from high blood pressure. At the very least, a physician should be consulted before someone with a history of high blood pressure attempts to use a product containing Butcher’s broom.