The butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus L.) is a low evergreen shrub with typical red berries used as a Christmas ornament, belonging to the family Liliaceae (Asparagaceae according to the APG classification).
The Ruscus aculeatus belongs to the Domain Eukaryota, Kingdom Plantae, Division Magnoliophyta, Liliopsida class, subclass Liliidae, Order Liliales Family Liliaceae, Gender Ruscus, R. aculeatus Species.
The genus name from the Latin word which in turn derives from the greek “rugchos” = beak, beak, indicating cladodes pointed apex, just like a bird’s beak, is the name by which the ancient Romans called the plant .; the specific epithet “aculeatus” = equipped with spikes, indicating the mucroni stinging of which are equipped with cladodes.
The common name comes from the custom holly farmer to protect from mice with bunches of this plant, food items stored in the basement or in the pantry, but also from the agricultural practice of having crowns of dry branches of A. aculeatus, at the foot of fruit trees thus avoiding that they go up on the mice.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
It grows in leccete, deciduous woods thermophilic from 0 to 600 meters. In the south from 0 to 1200 meters. In Italy it is common throughout the territory. It is missing in much of the Po Valley.
Among the varieties we also remember the original Ruscus hypoglossum Europe, Italy and Asia Minor, has a height of thirty – fifty centimeters, suffruticosa plant with oblong lanceolate cladodes not sharp.
The flowers are yellow and bloom in spring, followed by small red berries. It grows in wooded areas in a completely shaded positions; It can be grown with ferns.
Although not a rare species, but rather in suitable places is very abundant, in Abruzzo Pungitopo species is protected by the Regional Law n. 45 of 11 September 1979. The collection of Butcher’s Broom is forbidden but for medicinal and culinary purposes it is recommended cultivation.
The plant commonly known as the “butcher’s broom” is called in reality Ruscus and belongs to the family Ruscaceae. This genus comprises about six species that grow wild in Europe and the Middle East. The best-known and is the Ruscus aculeatus, often confused with a small holly; in southern Europe, however, they are quite common even Ruscus hypoglossum and microglossum, both smaller in size.
The Ruscus aculeatus, better known as holly or butcher’s broom is native to Europe. It arises spontaneously in our climate.
Ruscus The genus comprises three species of evergreen suffruticose plants, medium-sized rustic (no more than sixty, eighty centimeters in height) to dense branching and disordered.
This type of plant is devoid of leaves, those that we think they are, are actually modified and flattened they stem, which are called cladodes.
The Ruscus aculeatus is a small shrub: the height can vary from 30 to 100 cm. Its cylindrical stems remain green all year round; these branch off those formations cladodes, very similar to the leaves: in reality it is transformed drums. They hired a flat, oval and sharp point. They are a beautiful glossy dark green and remain on the plant even during the cold season.
It is a dioecious plant: Some bear only female flowers (and later fruits), others only male. But there are also hermaphrodites specimens.
The flowers, however, are formed on cladodes They are greenish-white or mauve, inconspicuous. They appear in April and May; in female individuals, during the winter, they then turn into fruits, that is, large, round berries bright red. In each content are 2 or 3 seeds.
It was once very common in the wild, but it is the intensive use of it was done in the country (to protect crops from mice with spines or for brooms) is the collection for medicinal purposes, made it increasingly rare. In some areas classified as protected flora and absolutely it can not be collected.
Currently it is grown to order medicines and ornamental. Its branches, in fact, are employed for the realization of floral compositions or crowns, especially in the winter period.
Butcher’s broom plants are rather rustic and are well suited to exposure in both sunny and shady areas. It is a variety that tolerates cold well and can be buried in pots even from November to March.
In almost all of Italy a position protected from heat and light is recommended, especially during the summer. The ideal is to place the ruscus under broad-leaved trees or in partial shade. It withstands the morning light very well, but it is always good to avoid exposing it to the afternoon light. Only in locations above 800 meters a.s.l. it’s a good idea to choose a warmer placement.
As for the watering of butcher’s broom plants, it is good to proceed frequently in the summer season, especially if it is young plants or grown in pots, while in the winter season it is good to thin the water supply. It is important to check that stagnant water does not form, which could compromise the plant.
Butcher’s broom is, like many typical plants of the Mediterranean flora, very resistant to drought. On the contrary, it requires very dry soil: it is therefore very suitable for all gardens without access to water sources.
The advice is to follow it during the first year from planting by irrigating initially every two weeks, in the absence of rain. We can also intervene only monthly thereafter. From the second year our contribution will be absolutely superfluous: a well-freed butcher’s broom does not need any irrigation.
Butcher’s broom is a plant without particular demands in terms of soil, in fact it adapts to all soils as long as they are well drained. However, he prefers limestone soils.
The butcher’s broom wants a very draining substratum, which tends to be calcareous. If that of our garden turns out to be too compact we can extract it and mix a good amount of gravel (coarse and finer) and a little river sand. For pot cultivation, excellent mixtures are those specific for citrus or cactaceae, to which we can add a little crushed stone or expanded clay and a few handfuls of soil conditioner.
The multiplication of ruscus aculeatus occurs in September or March by division of the tufts or by transplanting the young shoots that detach from the mother plants. Reproduction by seed takes place in September but gives results in much longer times.
They are planted in groups of three to five, using plants of both sexes.
The sowing can be done in autumn (burying the whole berry) or in spring (putting the individual grains in the ground). We always keep moist. The chances of success are however very variable: many seeds, in fact, are sterile or not very viable. It is therefore important to use a large amount of it.
The division is much simpler and faster: the bush must be extracted from the ground using a pitchfork. Finally, cut the rhizome into several parts, making sure that each has at least one root and one jet.
Alternatively, the individual “towers” produced in the spring, equipped with a section of roots, can be removed with a spade.
The cultivation of butcher’s broom is not difficult, as long as it reproduces its natural habitat as much as possible.
The butcher’s broom grows spontaneously at not too high altitudes: it tends to prefer warm climates and arid soils. The individuals most sensitive to frost and cold winds are the young ones: adult plants, on the other hand, are able to withstand even very harsh climates, as long as the environment is not excessively humid.
If we live in the North or above 600/800 meters above sea level, it is advisable to insert the subject in a well-lit position during the day and take particular care of the drainage.
As for pests and diseases that can affect the butcher’s broom plant, it is correct to say that this variety is hardly subject to serious problems but attention must be paid to root rot which creates a sudden collapse of the plant followed by leaf decay.
Another problem can be powdery mildew which causes the appearance of white and powdery spots on the leaves and on the stems and the leaves dry out.
In this respect, the butcher’s broom is very reliable: it is in fact practically immune to disease and completely ignored by parasites. There may be errors in cultivation, but even in this respect it is truly very tolerant.
Planting can be done in the autumn or spring. The first option is preferable because it guarantees better rooting and greater vegetative growth when the warm season arrives.
Instead, we proceed in the spring if we live in the mountains (in very humid and cold areas) and if our soil has some drainage defects.
It is necessary to dig a hole three times as wide and deep as bread from the earth. On the bottom we create a thick draining layer with gravel. We insert the butcher’s broom and fill with the eventually modified soil to make it ideal.
At the end of the winter it is useful to eliminate the dry shoots and the older ones, to give the shrub a good general appearance and stimulate the emission of new branches. We always work with long and very thick gloves as the tip of the leaves is extremely pointed.
Customs and Traditions –
The properties of butcher’s broom had known since antiquity; Pliny spoke saying that the decoction of the roots with wine was used for kidney infections.
Even Dioscorides gave the same information just advised to macerate in wine leaves and berries against kidney inflammation.
In the Middle Ages it used the “Potion of the five roots”, still used along with the parsley, fennel, celery and asparagus as a diuretic.
According to other traditions, the dead branches of Butcher’s Broom, because of the shape and pungent gooseberry leaves, were used to drive away evil spirits from the house; hence its wide use in the Christmas period, as a sign of good luck.
The butcher’s broom, such as holly, fir, mistletoe, is considered in fact since ancient times a powerful lucky. The ancient Germanic peoples used it to honor the spirits of the woods and in their homes they had more of the branches of holly. Even for the Latin peoples were an important symbol of hope and in fact exchanged holly branches during the celebrations as a good omen. For Christians were a symbol of fertility and abundance. From these ancient traditions comes the use of holly in festive season, just to wish happiness in the new year.
Such use, unfortunately, has caused an indiscriminate collection, putting at risk the spontaneous growth of the species.
The active ingredients present in Pungitopo plants are: essential oils such as camphor, linalyl acetate, bornyl acetate, linalool, anethole and resins. They also contain various minerals such as calcium and potassium nitrate; phytosterols such as ruscogenin, neuroscogenina, ruscina and others; various flavonoids; sugars; fatty acids and organic acids.
Its properties are mainly related to the phytosterols that give the holly diuretic properties with the elimination of chlorides, sedative and anti-inflammatory urinary tract, it has beneficial effects against kidney stones, cystitis, gout, arthritis and non-articular rheumatism.
The butcher’s broom is the most powerful natural vasoconstrictor that is known, useful in the therapy of varicose veins with vasoconstrictor action exerted especially at the capillary level. Exerts an anti-inflammatory that acts by decreasing the capillary fragility, increasing the tone of the venous wall thus favoring the blood circulation which results in decrease of heaviness and swelling of the legs.
Also Exerts a beneficial effect against hemorrhoids and phlebitis.
Of the holly mainly uses the rhizome, to be collected in the autumn or early spring, before the issue of the shoots. It should be cleaned from the earth and then cut and dried and stored in paper bags or glass jars. You can also use the shoots of holly because they contain the same active ingredients.
Among other uses, please note that the dry plant, linked to a pole, is used in some regions to clean the chimneys, as is the case with the pungent asparagus or as rudimentary broom.
How to prepare –
The Butcher’s Broom has important uses in the kitchen. A spring, from March to May, sprouting new shoots of holly (shoots), which in the dialect of Upper Vasto, are called “Vriscare”. The young shoots are assiduously sought by connoisseurs to be eaten after cooking, or preserved in oil or vinegar, like asparagus. The flavor is similar to that of the asparagus but more bitter for this reason they are often cooked in plenty of water and vinegar to soften a bit ‘bitter and then made into preserves. They are really delicious as an appetizer or to accompany meat, eggs in omelets, risottos and even with the shrimp.
The collection of holly shoots must be done when they are still very tender. Some collect them virtually when they are still in the ground are whitish or purplish, when just sprouted. Passed this stage, assume a woody consistency and become bitter. They are a blessing for the liver.
In its therapeutic uses remembers its decoction: taking every day a decoction of butcher’s broom for a period of at least one month you can get a clear improvement in the case of phlebitis and hemorrhoids, which are varicose dilatation of the vein network submucosa of the rectum. The jars disinfiammano quickly and tend to regain its normal appearance as a result of vasoconstriction. We recommend a pinch of powdered rhizome to boil 5 minutes in a cup of water. You drink between meals.
The butcher’s broom is successfully used in the preparation of creams against rosacea, especially in people with very sensitive skin that is affected by temperature changes. These creams have protective properties, soothing, refreshing and sfiammanti. Daily use of a cream to reduce redness rusco tends to giving back to the skin a uniform color.
Finally, if you associate the intake of decoction of holly to its application in cream on legs, thighs and buttocks you get a good anti-cellulite action.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. The Health from the Pharmacy of the Lord, tips and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Publisher
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
Please note: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgici uses are indicated for information purposes only, do not represent in any way a medical prescription; it accepts no liability on their use for therapeutic purposes, cosmetic or food.