Buchu is the bushy shrub known as Barosma betulina or Auguthosma betulina. It is native to the Cape region of South Africa where it grows wild on sunny hillsides. It is also cultivated in other areas of Africa and in parts of South America. Commercially buchu is used to enhance black currant flavor in alcoholic beverages such as cassis, a black currant brandy, and as a fragrance in perfumes. The entire plant is strongly aromatic with a spicy odor and mint-like taste.
Buchu grows to a height of about 6 ft (2 m). The small, wrinkled, leathery leaves are used in healing. The leaves have many raised oil glands on their surface that contain the volatile oil that is the chief medicinal component of the plant. Leaves are harvested in the summer when the plant is in bloom and dried for future use. Two related species, B. crenulata and B. serratifolia are often used interchangeably with B. betulina. The Barosma species of buchu should not be confused with Indian buchu (Myrtus communis ). Barosma buchu leaves are exported commercially from South Africa to Great Britain, Netherlands, and the United States.
Buchu was a traditional folk remedy of the Khoikhoi, a native people of the Cape region of South Africa. The Khoikhoi used buchu as a stimulant, a diuretic, and to relieve bloating.
Buchu was introduced in Great Britain around 1800 and was officially listed as a medicine in the British Pharmacopoeia by 1821. British physicians used it to treat inflammations of the urinary system including cystitis, urethritis, and nephritis. South African herbalists still use it to treat these ailments.
Buchu was introduced in the United States shortly after it appeared in Great Britain. By the mid-1800s, it was a popular patent medicine used for treating urinary complaints. In the United States and Germany today, buchu is still used by herbalists as a diuretic. It is recommended to treat symptoms of high blood pressure and is an ingredient in herbal formulas to relieve premenstrual bloating. It is also used as a stomach tonic.
Buchu is believed to have antiseptic properties. German herbalists recommend it as a treatment for irritable bladder, for mild inflammations of the urinary tract, bladder infections , and for prostatitis. American herbalists recommend that compresses soaked in buchu tea be applied to bruises to accelerate healing. The tea is also used as a vaginal douche to treat yeast (Candida ) infections.
The German Federal Health Agency's Commission E was established in 1978 to independently review and evaluate scientific literature and case studies pertaining to herb and plant medications. The E Commission found that buchu's diuretic properties were of the same magnitude as ordinary coffee or tea, which are also diuretics of weaker forms. It declined to recommend buchu as a diuretic.
Some laboratory studies found that buchu extracts did not inhibit the growth of any bacteria that commonly cause urinary tract infections. On the basis of these studies, the E Commission also declined to recommend buchu as a treatment urinary infections. The United States Food and Drug Administration also declined to approve buchu as an ingredient in non-prescription formulas to relieve premenstrual symptoms.
Buchu can be prepared as an infusion, a tincture, or in capsules. An essential oil is produced by steam distillation. The infusion is usually made by steeping 0.5 oz (15 g) of the herb in 2 cups (500 ml) of boiling water. This is drunk two or three times a day. Buchu is also available in commercial herbal teas. Ten to 40 drops of the tincture or extract is taken with water three times a day. Commercial capsules containing 200 mg of the herb are available and are generally taken one to three times daily for a limited time period, usually a week or less.
Buchu is also used in combination with other herbs in commercially available remedies. It is often used in combination with corn silk (Zea maize ) and juniper (Juniperus communis ) in treatments for cystitis and urinary tract infections, and is combined with uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi ) in formulas to treat premenstrual bloating.
Buchu should not be self-prescribed by people who have kidney infections, pain during urination, blood in the urine, or any problems with kidney function. Bladder and kidney infections need prompt attention by a medical doctor. Herbalists often recommend that buchu should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women. The volatile oil of buchu contains the compound pule-gone that stimulates the uterus to contract and is potentially toxic to the kidneys and liver in excess or over prolonged doses.
Due to its diosmin and essential oils (diosphenol and pulegone) buchu is a potential kidney and liver irritant in high or prolonged doses. It could also increase the risk of a miscarriage in pregnant women.
There has been little scientific study of the interaction of buchu and Western pharmaceuticals. No interactions have been reported nor have there been any reports of herbal interactions.
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Lawless, Julia. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Rockport, MA: Element, 1995.
Peirce, Andrea. The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1999.
PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, New Jersey: Medical Economics Company, 1998.