Alternative Medicine

Dangerous Herbs: Bugleweed

English: Lycopus europaeus, Lamiaceae, Gipsywo...

English: Lycopus europaeus, Lamiaceae, Gipsywort, Bugleweed, European Bugleweed, Water Horehound, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The use of herbs has gained popularity over the course of the last decade,  many herbs are very well known like Ginkgo BilobaSt. John’s Wart and Echinacea while others like bugleweed are not.  Many of the herbs and herbal products have undergone clinical trials to study the safety and efficacy when in use by the general public, but some have not and may pose serious health risks if used improperly. Bugleweed is one of the herbs that has traditional uses that have not been proven in clinical trials and may pose very serious risks if patients with certain medical conditions or on certain medications ingest it.

Bugleweed is part of the Lamiaceae family, which originated Europe, Asia and North America and often grows on or near water. Bugleweed is often used to treat overactive thyroid especially in cases where symptoms such as tightness of breath, palpitation and shaking are present. It has also been used for coughs and heart conditions where there is an associated buildup of water in the body.

Herbalists have used bugleweed to treat such conditions as mild heart conditions, bleeding in the lungs from tuberculosis, excessive menstruation, to reduce fever and mucus production in flus/ colds and for the treatment of snakebites.

When taken orally it has been used to treat mild hyperthyroidism, premenstrual syndrome, nervousness and insomnia. Bugleweed is sometimes paired with lemon balm to treat patients with Graves’ disease and other forms of hyperthyroidism.  Every herb has different constituents that give it its healing power. Bugleweed has an antithyroid action, in that it has been shown to inhibit thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), Graves immunoglobin & iodothyronine delodinase. One study demonstrated pronounced peripheral T4 conversion and decreased thyroid secretion independent of TSH activation. These actions differ from those of the traditional antithyroid agents and may be due to the phenols lithospermic and rosmarinic acids. Bugleweed also displays antigonadotropic actions and an ability to decrease prolactin. A significant decrease occurred in both luteinizing hormones (LH) and testosterone levels when lycopus europaeus extract was given orally. This action is also attributed to the phenols, namely lithospermic and rosarinic.

Due to these actions bugleweed may be unsafe when used in patients taking hypertensive or hypotensive agents and in those patients taking hormonal agents.  Bugleweed may also pose risks or interact with certain drugs, for instance it is not recommended for diabetics since it may increase the risk of hypoglycemia. Bugleweed also has mild sedative effects so it is not recommended to undergo bugleweed therapy while taking sedatives. Bugleweed may also reduce the effects of thyroid hormones. Bugleweed is said to interfere with diagnostic procedures using radioactive isotopes.

Natural medicine may often offer fewer side effects than its traditional counterparts but make no mistake, nature can still be powerful medicine. Before undergoing any herbal treatment it is always recommended to seek the guidance of a well-trained herbalist. Many of the historical uses of bugleweed have not shown their efficacy  in high-quality clinical trials and may be very dangerous if used improperly by those with thyroid conditions or taking hormone therapy.

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Bugleweed (2010). Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs & Natural Supplements. Retrieved from

Natural Standard Database. (2011, May). Retrieved from

Van Wyk, B. &Wink, M. (2004). Medicinal Plants of the World (pp.196) London, England: Timber Press.

©Ellice Campbell 2013


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