Butterfly bush, also known as buddleia and Mi Meng Hua in Pinyin, is an ordinary shrub usually found in the field and valley. When it blooms, clusters of flowers tend to attract hummingbirds and bees. However, it is so inconspicuous that no one would associate it with the well-known title – the “eye guardian”. As a matter of fact, this Chinese herb plays a huge role in the treatment and prevention of human eye problems. According to legend, as early as more than 1,000 years ago Sun Simiao, a famous physician and “King of Medicine” in Tang Dynasty, ever used buddleia to cure little white dragon’s eye disease. Even if it is legend, at least it conveys two messages to us – Sun’s superb medical skill and buddleia’s incredible healing power.
What is butterfly bush?
Because the main medicinal part of this herb is the flowers, medicinally it refers to the dried buds of Buddleja officinalis Maxim., which is a tree in the family Loganiaceae. Therefore, other names of this medicine include Buddleia Flower Bud, Flos Buddlejae, Buddleja, Flos Buddleiae Officinalis, Flos Immaturus Buddlejae Officinalis, Buddleia officinalis flower bud, etc. In China it is usually harvested in spring and mainly produced in Hubei, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan. And it is used dried and raw.
Butterfly bush tree (Buddleia officinalis) is a deciduous shrub, usually 1 to 3 meter in height. Branchlets are grayish brown, slightly 4-angled, and densely tomentose. Leaves are opposite, from narrowly elliptic to linear-lanceolate, 5 to 15cm long, about 3cm wide, with acuminate apex, cuneate base, entire or serrated margin. Panicle is acrogenous, 5 to 12cm long, and densely pubescent; bracts are lanceolate and tomentose; calyx is bell-shaped and with 4 cracked apex; corolla tubular is about 1.5cm and with 4-cracked apex; stamens are 4 and located in the center of the corolla tube; ovary is superior, with 2 rooms, tomentose apex, and short style. Capsule is 2-6mm long, 2-lobed, and with persistent calyx and petals on the base. Seeds are numerous , small, multi- flat. Bloom time is from February to March and fruit season is from July to August. Habitats are hillsides, hills, riverside, and bushes or grass besides villages.
There are a variety of glycosides in butterfly bush flower. Flavonoid glycosides include buddleoglucoside (linarin or acaciin); triterpenoid glycosides are mimengoside A and B; iridoid glycosides are aucubin, catalpol, catalposide, p-methoxycinnamoyl aucubin, and p-methoxycinnamoylcatalpol; 3,4-dihydroxyphenyl-ethyl-glucopyranoside includes acteoside and echinacoside. In addition, it still contains acacetin.
Butterfly bush medicinal uses
Butterfly bush leaves, flowers, and roots can be used medicinally. In particular, its flower buds are commonly used for eye care. The importance of eye health is self-explanatory to human. Unfortunately, eye diseases can be complicated by many medical diseases, such as hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and diabetes. And many autoimmune diseases can cause eye problems too, for example, corneal ulcer and inflammation in Behcet’s disease, uveitis in ankylosing spondylitis, dry eyes and secondary infections in Sjogren’s syndrome and lupus, and vitreous opacities or even cataracts for long-term use of corticosteroids in patients. Hence, it is necessary to treat eye diseases while dealing with the primary diseases.
As mentioned above, buddleia is the herb that can make a difference on eye treatment. Clinically it is frequently used for the treatment of eye diseases like corneal opacity, dim eyesight, glaucoma, and nebula. Now pharmacology study found that the flavonoids (like acacetin) can repair the damaged cell membrane of lens, prevent the protein denaturation in lens, reduce lens opacity, and in the end restore vision. From the point of view of Traditional Chinese medicine, it moistens liver to improve eyesight. For instance, cataract is a common eye disease among the elderly, which may lead to blindness if left untreated. And typically TCM fumigates eye with the butterfly bush tea to bring in relief.
Modern pharmacological actions of buddleia
The acacia contained has vitamin P like effect, which can reduce inflammation, reduce skin and intestinal vascular permeability and fragility, relieve muscle spasms, promote the flow of bile from the gall bladder into the duodenum, and increase secretion of urine.
Selected butterfly bushes herbal remedies
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia says that it is sweet in flavor and slightly cold in nature. It goes to liver meridian. Main functions are clearing heat, nourishing liver, improving eyesight, and removing nebula. Primary butterfly bush uses and indications include red swollen painful eyes, excessive tearing, photophobia, nebula, dim eyesight due to liver deficiency, and presbyopia. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 9 grams in decoction.
1. Mi Meng Hua Wan from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It couples Huang Bai Gen (Amur Cork Tree Root) to treat nebula.
2. Mi Meng Hua San from Yin Hai Jing Wei (Essential Subtleties on the Silver Sea). It joins Ju Hua (Chrysanthemum Morifolium), Man Jing Zi (Vitex Trifolia), Gou Qi Zi (Goji Berry), Qing Xiang Zi (seed of feather cockscomb), etc. to treat photophobia, liver-gall deficiency, and dim eyesight.
3. Mi Meng Hua San from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It combines with Mu Zei (Scouring Rush), Shi Jue Ming (Abalone Shell), Qiang Huo (Notopterygium), etc. to treat excessive tearing and photophobia due to the surge of wind-fire.
4. Bo Yun Tui Yi Wan from Yuan Ji Qi Wei(Orthodox Ophthalmology: Revealing the Mystery of Eye Disease). It works with Chan Tui (Cicada Molting), Bai Ji Li (Tribulus terrestris fruit), etc. to cure corneal opacity caused by the stagnated liver-fire.
5. Lu Feng Huan Jing Wan from Yi Zhong Jin Jian (Golden Mirror of the Medical Tradition). It matches with Tu Si Zi (Cuscuta), Shan Yao (Chinese Yam), Rou Cong Rong (Fleshy Stem of Broomrape), etc. to treat liver deficiency induced dim eyesight and presbyopia.
Is butterfly bush poisonous?
Butterfly bush flower is edible and normally considered a relatively safe herb clinically. In fact, Dai people in Xishuangbanna love to use it to make “Hao Leng”, a kind of yellow sticky rice dyed with buddleia flowers. It’s easy to make – soak a bunch of flowers and rice together in water and then steam the rice when done. Therefore, the cooked rice will become golden yellow, more tasty and refreshing, and with an exceptional flavor. Coincidentally, Zhuang People also cook Wu Se Fan (five-colored rice), which is a traditional food to entertain guests. This food gets its name because of the five colors – black, red, yellow, purple, and white. As you can see now, among them the yellow color comes from buddleia.