Butcher's broom, Butcher's broom - Ruscus aculeatus

Butcher's broom, Butcher's broom - Ruscus aculeatus

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The butcher's broom

The plant commonly known as "butcher's broom" is actually called Ruscus and belongs to the Ruscaceae family. This genus includes about 6 species that grow spontaneously in Europe and the Middle East. The most widespread and known is the Ruscus aculeatus, often confused with a small holly; in southern Europe, however, Ruscus hypoglossum and microglossum, both smaller, are also quite common.
Ruscus aculeatus, better known as rusco or butcher's broom is a plant native to Europe. It arises spontaneously in our climate.
The genre ruscus includes three species of evergreen suffruticose plants, medium-sized rustic (not more than sixty, eighty centimeters in height) with dense and disordered branching.
This type of plant is devoid of leaves, those that we think are, in reality they are modified and flattened stems, called cladodes.

General characteristics of butcher's broom

The Ruscus aculeatus is a small shrub: the height can vary from 30 to 100 cm. Its cylindrical stems remain green in every season; from these formations form cladodes, very similar to leaves: in reality they are transformed stems. They took on a flat, oval shape and pointed tip. They are of a beautiful dark green and remain on the plant even during the cold season.
It is a dioecious vegetable: some bear only female flowers (and then fruits), others only male. However, hermaphrodite specimens also exist.
The flowers, in any case, are formed on the cladodes: they are white-greenish or mauve in color, inconspicuous. They appear between April and May; in female individuals, during the winter, they then turn into fruits, that is, large, round, bright red berries. Each contains 2 or 3 seeds.
At one time it was widespread in the spontaneous state, but both the intensive use made of it in the countryside (to protect crops from mice with spines or for the manufacture of brooms) and the collection for medicinal purposes, have made it more and more rare. In some areas it is classified as a protected flora and cannot be harvested.
It grows mostly in broad-leaved woods (particularly in oak and holm oak) or in arid and stony areas, on calcareous soils, at rather low altitudes (generally below 600 meters above sea level).
Currently it is also cultivated for medicinal and ornamental purposes. Its branches, in fact, are used for the realization of floral compositions or crowns, especially in winter.

Family, genus, species Ruscus aculeatus
Type of plant shrub
Origin Europe and the Middle East
Foliage persistent
Habit Erect or ground cover
Use Shady garden, natural, low hedge, groups in Mediterranean scrub
Height at maturity Up to 1 meter
Growth rate normal
Maintenance low
Water needs low
Rusticitа Rustic enough in a dry environment
Exposure Half shade and shadow
Ground Calcareous, well-drained; adaptable
soil pH Neutral to sub-alkaline
Soil moisture dry
Environmental humidity low
Propagation Division, collecting side jets, sowing

Flowers and berries

The ruscus aculeatus is a dioecious plant, this means that male and female flowers are produced on separate plants.
The flowers of the butcher's broom are small, white and the female ones, in October, are transformed into red, glossy berries that can last until March. They are certainly the most well-known characteristic of ruscus plants.
Berry berries give the plant a very decorative appearance, which is often used in Christmas decorations.

The rhizome

The rhizome of the butcher's broom is used for treatment with natural remedies, as it has diuretic properties. For this reason the ruscus is used in the treatment of ascites, edemas, dropsy, dysurias and bladder stones. The plant of ruscus aculeatus also has astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.



autumn Spring
Flowering April May
Berries production November to January
Cleaning / Pruning spring
Sowing autumn Spring
Division spring
Sprouts harvest May
Harvesting branches with berries winter


The ruscus plants are rather rustic and well suited to exposure both in sunny and shady areas. It is a variety that tolerates cold well and can be buried in pot even from November to March.
In almost all of Italy it is recommended a position protected from heat and light, especially during the summer. The ideal is to insert the ruscus under deciduous trees or in partial shade. It bears very well the morning light, but it is always good to avoid exposing it to the afternoon. Only in locations above 800 meters s.l.m. It is a good idea to choose a warmer placement.


As for the watering of holly plants it is good to go frequently in the summer season, especially if it is young or potted plants, while in winter it is good to thin out the water supply. It is important to check that water does not build up, which could compromise the plant.
In the spring period it is advisable to supply liquid fertilizer that gives the nutrients necessary for the correct development of the plant.
Butcher's broom is, like many typical plants of the Mediterranean flora, very resistant to drought. It requires, on the contrary, a very dry soil: it is therefore very suitable for all gardens without access to water sources.
The advice is to follow him during the first vintage from planting, initially irrigating every two weeks, in the absence of rain. Later we can also intervene only monthly. From the second year our contribution will be absolutely superfluous: a well-paid butcher's broom does not need any irrigation.

Ground Broom

The ruscus is a plant with no particular claims in terms of soil, in fact it adapts to all soils provided it is well drained. However, it prefers limestone soils.
Butcher's broom has a very draining, basically limestone substrate. If the one in our garden is too compact we can extract it and mix a good amount of gravel (large and finer) and a bit of river sand. For the cultivation in pots excellent mixtures are those specific for citrus fruits or cacti, to which we can add a bit of crushed stone or expanded clay and a few handfuls of soil conditioner.

Multiplication of Butcher's Broom

The multiplication of the ruscus aculeatus it takes place in September or in March by division of the tufts or by transplanting the young shoots that come off the mother plants. Seed reproduction takes place in September but gives results in much longer times.
They are planted in groups of three - five, using plants of both sexes.
Sowing can be carried out in autumn (burying the whole berry) or in spring (putting the individual grains in the soil). We always keep wet. However, the chances of success are very variable: many seeds, in fact, are sterile or not vital. It is therefore important to use a large quantity.
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 spring, equipped with a root section, can be taken with a spade.

Climate for Butcher's Broom

Butcher's cultivation is not difficult, as long as its natural habitat is reproduced as much as possible.
Butcher's broom grows spontaneously at not too high altitudes: it tends to prefer warm climates and dry soils. The most sensitive individuals to frost and cold winds are the young ones: the adult plants, on the other hand, are capable of withstanding even very harsh climates, provided that the environment is not excessively humid.
If we live in the North or above 600/800 meters above sea level it is advisable to place the subject in a well-lit position during the day and to particularly cure drainage.

Parasites and Diseases

As for the parasites and diseases that can affect the holly plant it is correct to say that this variety is hardly subject to serious problems but it is necessary to pay attention to the root rot that creates a sudden collapse of the plant followed by leaf decay.
Another problem can be the powdery mildew which causes the appearance of white and powdery spots on the leaves and on the stems and the leaves dry up.
In this respect the butcher's broom is extremely reliable: it is in fact practically immune to disease and completely ignored by parasites. You may run into cultivation errors, but even in this respect it is really very tolerant.

Planting Butcher's Broom

Planting can be done in autumn or spring. The first option is to be preferred because it guarantees better rooting and greater vegetative growth when the warm weather arrives.
We proceed instead in spring if we live in the mountains (in very humid and cold areas) and if our soil has some drainage defect.
We need to dig a wide and deep hole three times the earth bread. On the bottom we create a thick draining layer with gravel. We insert the butcher's broom and fill it with the possibly modified soil in order to be ideal.


R. Hypoglossum native to Europe, Italy and Asia Minor, has a height of thirty - fifty centimeters, a suffruticosa plant with non-sharp lanceolate oblong cladodes.
The flowers are yellow and bloom in spring, followed by small red berries. It grows in wooded areas in completely shaded positions; can be grown with ferns.

Butcher's fertilization

It does not require specific interventions from this point of view. Young plants can benefit from the spring administration of a mild granular fertilizer, balanced in its elements.

Pruning of Butcher's Broom

At the end of winter it is useful to eliminate dry and older jets, to give the shrub a good general appearance and to stimulate the emission of new branches. We always work with long and very thick gloves since the tip of the leaves is extremely pointed.

Butcher's broom, Butcher's broom - Ruscus aculeatus: Possible uses of butcher's broom

Butcher's broom is used both in phytotherapy and in the culinary field. It is known and appreciated since ancient times since it is already mentioned in the medical treatises written by Pliny the Elder and Galen.
As a medicinal plant
The most appreciated part is undoubtedly the rhizome. The medicines that are made from it appear to be excellent vasoconstrictors, anti-inflammatories and diuretics. They are therefore used to alleviate problems related to poor circulation such as swelling, phlebitis, venous insufficiency and gout. They are also inserted into lotions or creams to cure skin imperfections, such as weak capillaries and rosacea.
They also affect the duration and regularity of female menstruation.
We must collect the rhizome in full autumn, wash it well and let it dry slowly. Finally it will be chopped and powdered to then be used in hot drinks (decoctions, herbal teas) or mixed with alcohol.
The roots of ruscus, fennel, celery, asparagus and parsley were used to make a highly appreciated medicinal syrup.
In the kitchen
From the gastronomic point of view the most interesting part is the shoots, very similar to those of the asparagus, which are harvested in the month of May. They have a very particular taste, bitter but pleasant. In some regions they are considered authentic delights.
They should be boiled and then sautéed in butter (adding a little cheese or oil and lemon). They can also be used as an ingredient in excellent omelettes.
The ideal is to collect them and use them as soon as possible; However, it is possible to keep them in the refrigerator for two or three days, wrapped in a damp cloth.
In the past the berries were used as a coffee substitute: they were harvested, toasted and powdered to make a hot drink.
For home decoration
Butcher's broom branches are very decorative and are particularly appreciated during the winter months for their beautiful rose berries, suitable for the Christmas period. They are often combined or used as a substitute for holly or mistletoe. If we have a plant we can collect the individual branches at about 3 cm from the ground and then place them in a vase with fresh water: they can be kept safely for several weeks.
If we want to cultivate the ruscus especially for this aspect we choose a hermaphrodite specimen: we will thus have the certainty of always having the berries. An excellent alternative is also the Danae racemosa, very similar, hermaphroditic and without spines.
Other uses
At one time holly branches were used for the construction of rustic brooms and tools for cleaning chimneys.
Collection note
In many Italian regions, butcher's broom is a protected plant, as it is strongly threatened. It is therefore good to inquire with the authorities before picking up branches, sprouts or fruits.
  • Butcher's broom plant

    Watering is a very important aspect in the cultivation of butcher's broom and must necessarily follow

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