Butcher’s Broom Coffee

This weekend I wanted to make a coffee substitute, something that tasted ‘rich’. Something that I could ‘chew’ on.

My shop bought coffee-alternatives include the likes of Whole Earth Nocaf, Barleycup etc.

And when it comes to finding tasty “coffee” substitutes from the wild, I have always struggled with the more common substitutes such as dandelion or chicory.

Don’t get me wrong I really like them, but coffee isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when I sip on them.

No, I wanted something that actually had the deep rich smell of coffee, and that could, at a push, be a coffee analog.

Was there such a thing out there, beyond the human world, hiding in plain sight at this time of year? Some plant jiggling around trying to get me to notice it?

This year my attention has been caught by a prickly shrub called Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus). It’s ‘leaves’, actually they aren’t leaves but I don’t want to get all botanical on you, are tough and thick and tipped with a vicious spine.

Take an eye-glass or botanical loupe and have a look at its flowers. Talk about beauty hiding in what likely appears to most people as a drab, plain plant.

Chances are you have walked past Butcher’s Broom many times.

The bright red berries possibly attracting you, while your brain over rides any desire to stop and pay attention as it screams “Poisonous Plant”.

Butcher’s Broom is part of the Asparagus family (Asparagaceae), and the berries are indeed poisonous. If eaten they cause digestive problems and a condition known as hemolysis; the rupturing or destruction of red blood cells.

Yet within the fruit are two seeds. In Tunisia these seeds are first boiled, roasted, then ground and used as a coffee substitute.

It was this fact that intrigued me. And so I went and gathered a few of the berries to see if I could replicate what they do in Tunisia.

Butcher’s Broom Recipe : Ingredients

  • 200g butcher’s broom berries

Butcher’s Broom Recipe : Instructions

  1. First freeze the Butcher’s broom berries, then defrost and place the butcher’s broom berries in a pan of cold water and bring to a simmering boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Strain and gently mash the berries in a sieve, then pick out the Butcher’s Broom seeds. Rinse them and place on a baking tray covered with baking parchment.
  3. Roast at 200ºC in an oven for 20 minutes, checking regularly that they haven’t burned. You don’t want charcoal! The smell they emit while roasting is very reminiscent of coffee being roasted.
  4. Allow to cool, then either grind in a coffee grinder, pound in a mortar with a pestle, or blitz in a Nutri-bullet or some such device. The choice is yours. The seeds are hard and require a bit of work to grind.
  5. Place 2 -3 tablespoons of powder in a cafetière, and allow to brew for 15 minutes before drinking.

Makes: For every 200g of fruits, expect around 80g of seeds.


  1. Is that a wild plant? I don’t believe I know it. Maybe it’s not found wild in Ireland? I had a quick google and the root appears to have medicinal qualities. Interesting re seeds being a coffee substitute. I use mixture of dried Galium aparine seeds and roasted dandelion root….. but mostly I just drink coffee!
    Kind regards
    ps. I enjoy your book which I bought last year very much.

  2. Around a year ago, I read that Butcher’s Broom was a potent anti-venom for snake bites, and that when consumed somewhat regularly, it hangs around in the body continuing to serve that purpose. The book also stated that it was popular for that purpose with mountain guides in certain areas.

  3. Hi,
    Has anyone out there tried roasting the seeds from the the common “goose grass” weed (a member of the cleaver family)
    Apparently it is related to the coffee plant and although milder, it does contain caffeine
    Glenn & Rose
    Christchurch (New Zealand)

    • Although I can’t provide information on how good cleavers is, I understand it is much weaker than coffee, but I can provide you with a little botany. It is only quite distantly related to the coffee plant, being a member of the same family “Rubiaceae”, but that is where the splits into subfamilies including “Ixoroideae”, which contains the tribe “Coffeeae” (of which the genus Coffea is a member), and the subfamily “Rubioideae”, which contains the tribe “Rubieae” (of which the genus Galium, containing cleavers, is a member). Gardenia are more closely related to Coffea species than Galium, interestingly.

      Caffeine has been developed by different species of plant (including the Kola nut, of Coca-Cola fame) independently, and in nature acts as both a pesticide and herbicide, killing those that feast on it and preventing germination of competing plants.

  4. Hi!!

    I’ve been collecting Butcher’s Brooms, and I followed all the steps you wrote down (except from the first one: freezing them…cause I didn’t understand why to do it!) and I really enjoyed experimenting with this little herb. I remember the nice smell of roasted seeds that remind me to coffee sooo much!!:)

    I have to tell you that I had trouble to smash them, cause the seeds once they are roasted they are very very hard (like stones!). I almost broke down my grinder!!:S So I just took the powder I could and cook it with water. When I took it internally (I waited till the powder went down and of course I didn’t drink the powder!!) and I went to the bathroom directly (as I used to do it when I was taking coffee…)!!

    I was wondering if this seeds have any excitant quality or something, cause I felt like taking coffee for real again and going to the bathroom because of the irritation in my stomach. Could you tell us if has “caffeine” or some excitant in it? How did you smash the seeds properly? Why you froze the seeds firstly?

    Many thanks!! I am really enjoying your recipes here at home!:D

    • Hi Andrea: I used an electric coffee grinder to grind the seeds, and even then they where only tiny bits rather than ‘ground’.

      Mrs Grieve states “Diaphoretic, diuretic, deobstruent and aperient. Was much recommended by Dioscorides and other ancient physicians as an aperient and diuretic in dropsy, urinary obstructions and nephritic cases. A decoction of the root is the usual form of administration, and it is still considered of use in jaundice and gravel. One pint of boiling water to 1 OZ. of the twigs, or 1/2 oz. of the bruised fresh root has also been recommended as an infusion, which may be taken as tea. In scrofulous tumours, advantage has been realised by administering the root in doses of a drachm every morning. The decoction, sweetened with honey, is said to clear the chest of phlegm and relieve difficult breathing. The boughs have been employed for flogging chilblains.”

      I froze them because I wanted the skins softened and didn’t know if they would still be hard after the boiling if I hadn’t.

  5. Hi Robin, thanks for recipe. I searched but couldnt found the part of Tunusia people used seeds for coffee, could you share your source with me?
    I collected butchers broom fruits and want to drink with someone, so i investigate it deeply

    • I wrote this article years ago and do not remember where I found the specific mention of Tunisia. My referencing back then was not up to scratch. If in doubt, leave it out. The seeds are mentioned as a coffee substitute in classic texts like Facciola S. Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications; 1998. And if you look at Clarke RJ, Macrae R. Coffee: Related Beverages. Springer Science & Business Media; 1987, on page 13 there is a chart listing Ruscus aculeatus seeds as a coffee substitute used very rarely.

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