Herb of the Day for August 12 – Broom

Broom

Botanical Name

  • Family Leguminosae
  • Sarothamnus scoparius syn. Cytisus scoparius

Common Names

  • Scotch Broom, Irish Broom/Tops, Broomtops, Besom, Scoparium, Basam, Bizzom, Browme, Brum, Breeam

Cautions

  • Take internally only under professional supervision.
  • Do not take during pregnancy.
  • Do not take if suffering from high blood pressure.
  • Do not take with MAO inhibitors as it can cause a sudden rise in blood pressure.
  • Farm animals that ingest large amounts, especially along with alfalfa, may suffer fatal internal bleeding.

Description

Native to Europe, broom is commonly found on heaths, along roadsides, and in open woodlands. It is naturalized in many temperate regions, including North America, Africa, Canary Islands, Chile, and Japan. In the US, Australia, and New Zealand, it has overrun large areas of land once used for recreation and farming. The plant is a tall deciduous shrub, growing to a height of six feet, with narrow ridged stems, small trefoil leaves and bright yellow flowers in leafy terminal spikes. The leaves and pods are mildly toxic to farm animals if ingested in large amounts. The flowering tops are used by herbalists for medicinal purposes and are gathered from spring to autumn.

History

Both the common and species names indicate its usefulness as a sweeper (“scopa” means broom in Latin).

Its medicinal value is not mentioned in classical writings, but it does appear in medieval herbals. The 12th century Physicians of Myddfai recommended broom as a means of treating suppressed urine.

Broom was adopted at a very early period as the badge of Brittany, and has a long and colourful history. Geoffrey of Anjou was said to have thrust it into his helmet before going into battle so his troops could see him.

Henry II of England adapted broom’s medieval name (Planta genista) as his family name Plantagenet).

The shrub was seen on the great seal of Richard I, and adorns the Westminster Abbey tombstone of Richard II.

 

Medicinal Parts

  • Flowering tops
  • Sparteine is a potent alkaloid with actions similar to those of nicotine, slowing the heartbeat by suppressing certain nerve impulses. Other alkaloids in broom have shown to raise blood pressure and stimulate uterine contractions.
  • Isoflavones are estrogenic.
  • Scoparoside is a glycoside that is believed to have diuretic and laxative properties.

Traditional Uses

Common uses included ridding the body of excess fluid especially in CHF (congestive heart failure), as well as for treating cardiac arrhythmias, including an irregular, fast heartbeat. The plant acts on the electrical conductivity of the heart, slowing and regulating the transmission of the impulses. Since it is strongly diuretic, it stimulates urine production and thus countering fluid retention common in CHF cases. In Germany, broom is considered gentler and less toxic than the drug quinidine for treating heart arrhythmias.

It is also used to stimulate uterine contractions, and, since it causes the muscles of the uterus to contract, it has been used to prevent blood loss after childbirth.

By constricting small arteries, broom is said to help control heavy menstrual bleeding and reduces varicose veins.