Boldo is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is native to Chile and is naturalized to the Mediterranean region of Europe. The leaves are used medicinally.1
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Indigestion, Heartburn, and Low Stomach Acidity
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Boldo has a history of use in South America for a variety of digestive conditions.
Bitter herbs are thought to stimulate digestive function by increasing saliva production and promoting both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.2 As a result, they are particularly used when there is low stomach acid but not in heartburn (where too much stomach acid could initially exacerbate the situation). These herbs literally taste bitter. Some examples of bitter herbs include greater celandine, wormwood, gentian,dandelion, blessed thistle, yarrow, devil’s claw, bitter orange, bitter melon, juniper, andrographis, prickly ash, and centaury.3. Bitters are generally taken either by mixing 1–3 ml tincture into water and sipping slowly 10–30 minutes before eating, or by making tea, which is also sipped slowly before eating.
Boldo has been used in South America for a variety of digestive conditions, although this may have stemmed from its impact on intestinal infections or liver function. Studies specifically showing a benefit from taking boldo in people with indigestion and heartburn have not been performed. Picrorhiza, from India, has a similar story to that of boldo. While it is clearly a bitter digestive stimulant, human studies to confirm this have not yet been completed.
Boldo has a long history of use by the indigenous people of Chile, as a liver tonic and in the treatment of gallstones.
Boldo contains several types of primary constituents, including volatile oils (for example, ascaridole, eucalyptol), flavonoids, and alkaloids. Boldine, which constitutes about one-fourth of the total number of alkaloids present, is the major alkaloid.4 Scientists believe that boldine is responsible for the plant’s choloretic (bile stimulating) and diuretic actions.5 In conjunction with other herbs, such as cascara, rhubarb, and gentian, boldo has been reported to improve appetite.6 Ascaridole, a compound found in the volatile oil of the plant, has been used as an anti-parasitic agent but is no longer recommended due its to toxic side effects.7
Tinctures that are free of ascaridoles are sometimes recommended. People may take 1 ml of tincture three times per day. Volatile oil of boldo is not recommended due to its high ascaridole content.8 , 9 The dried leaf can be used as an infusion at 3 grams per day.
The German Commission E monograph suggests that only an ascaridole-free preparation should be used internally. Boldo contains terpene-4-ol, an ingredient similar to that found in juniper, and should be avoided by people with kidney disease, as it could cause kidney irritation.10 , 11 In addition, the herb should not be taken during pregnancy or breast-feeding. It should also be avoided by people who have obstruction of the liver bile duct, or severe liver disease.12 There is one case report of liver damage occurring in a person taking a laxative containing boldo. The herb was suspected, though not proven, to be the cause.13 Excessive use of the herb over long time periods (more than three to four weeks continuously) is not recommended.
1. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 95–6.
2. Schulz V, Hänsel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician’s Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed, Berlin: Springer, 1998, 168–73.
3. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 425–6.
4. Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicines. New York: Haworth Press, 1999, 74–5.
5. Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicines. New York: Haworth Press, 1999, 74–5.
6. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 46–7.
7. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 46–7.
8. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 46–7.
9. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 93–4.
10. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 93–4.
11. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 46–7.
12. Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Publications, 1997, 26.
13. Piscaglia F, Leoni S, Venturi A, et al. Caution in the use of boldo in herbal laxatives: a case of hepatotoxicity. Scand J Gastroenterol 2005;40:236–9.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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