Peumus boldus) is an evergreen shrub native to South America. It grows about 6 to 20 feet high and has thick waxy leaves. Although boldo has a long history of use as a culinary spice and medicinal herb, and is still one of the most common medicinal plants used in Chile, it has only recently become the subject of scientific research.
The leaves of the boldo plant have traditionally been used as a treatment for liver and bladder disorders as well as rheumatism. They have also been used for a wide variety of other ailments, including headache, earache, congestion, menstrual pain, and syphilis. Recent research suggests boldo may protect the liver from toxins, stimulate the gallbladder, and reduce inflammation.1–4
Germany's Commission E has approved boldo for "spastic gastrointestinal complaints and dyspepsia."5Dyspepsia
is a rather vague term that corresponds to the common word "indigestion," indicating a wide variety of digestive problems including stomach discomfort, lack of appetite, and nausea.
In Europe, dyspepsia is commonly attributed to inadequate flow of bile from the gallbladder. Although this connection has not been proven, boldo has been used as a treatment for dyspepsia based on how it affects the gallbladder. Boldo does not seem to increase bile production, but it may cause gallbladder contraction.6,7,8
Boldo taken alone has not been well evaluated as a treatment for dyspepsia; however, a combination herbal treatment containing boldo (along with other herbs thought to stimulate the gallbladder) has been studied. In a
double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 60 people given either an
artichoke leaf/boldo/celandine combination or placebo found improvements in symptoms of indigestion after 14 days of treatment.9
How this combination might be effective for treating dyspepsia is unclear.
Note: Celandine may present significant risk of liver toxicity.10,11,12
Studies on animals have found that boldo may have some ability to
protect the liver from toxins,13,14,15
perhaps due to the
antioxidant effects of a boldo constituent called boldine.16,17,18
Boldo also has anti-inflammatory properties,19,20,21
and, in addition, may act as a
essential oils found in boldo have antimicrobial properties;23
this is true of many essential oils, however, and does not indicate that boldo can act as an antibiotic.
Germany's Commission E recommends 3 g of the dried leaf or its equivalent per day for digestive complaints.
Although comprehensive safety studies have not been completed, boldo leaf appears to be safe at normal doses. No side effects were reported in any of the
animal studies. However, the plant's
are very toxic and can cause kidney damage if taken in purified form, or if very large amounts of the leaf are ingested. The safety of long-term use is also questionable.
Individuals with gallstones should only take boldo under a physician's supervision due to the risk of gallstones being expelled and becoming lodged in a bile duct or the intestines. Those with obstruction of the bile ducts should not use boldo at all, due to the risk of rupture.
Warning: Animal studies suggest that boldo can cause birth defects and spontaneous abortion. For this reason, pregnant women should not use boldo.24
Safety in nursing women, young children, and individuals with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
Magistretti MJ. Remarks on the pharmacological examination of plant extracts.
Genest K, Hughes DW. Natural products in Canadian pharmaceuticals. II.
Can J Pharm Sci. 1968;3:84–90.
Lanhers MC, Joyeux M, Soulimani R, et al. Hepatoprotective and anti-inflammatory effects of a traditional medicinal plant of Chile,
Peumus boldus. Planta Med. 1991;57:110–115.
Speisky H, Cassels BK. Boldo and boldine: an emerging case of natural drug development
. Pharm Res . 1994;29:1–12.
Blumenthal M, ed.
The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines.
Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications;1998.
Kupke D, von Sanden H, Trinczek-Gartner H, et al. An evaluation of the choleretic activity of a plant-based cholagogue [translated from German].
Z Allgemeinmed. 1991;67:1046–1058.
Greving I, Meister V, Monnerjahn C, et al. Chelidonium majus: a rare reason for severe hepatotoxic reaction.
Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Safety. 1998;7:S66–S69.
Benninger J, Schneider HT, Schuppan, et al. Acute hepatitis induced by greater celandine (Chelidonium majus).
Strahl S, Ehret V, Dahm H, et al. Necrotizing hepatitis after taking herbal remedies [translated from German].
Dtsch Med Wochenschr.
Jimenez I, Speisky H. Biological disposition of boldine: in vitro and in vivo studies.
Phytother Res. 2000;14:254–260.
Jimenez I, Garrido A, Bannach R, et al. Protective effects of boldine against free radical-induced erythrocyte lysis.
Phytother Res. 2000;14:339–343.
Backhouse N, Delporte C, Givernau M, et al. Anti-inflammatory and antipyretic effects of boldine.
Agents Actions. 1994;42:114–117.
Vila R, Valenzuela L, Bello H. Composition and antimicrobial activity of the essential oil of
Planta Med. 1999;65:178–179.
De Almeida ER, Melo AM, Xavier H. Toxicological evaluation of the hydro-alcohol extract of the dry leaves of
and boldine in rats.
Phytother Res. 2000;14:99–102.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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