White Horehound

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horehound-Marrubium vulgare
white horehound

Botanical: Marrubium vulgare

Family: Labiatae

actions: anthelmintic, antibacterial, expectorant, decongestant, diaphoretic, bitter tonic, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, emmenagogue, laxative
parts used: flowers and leaves

Horehound plants take up residence in a variety of places in our gardens. Being a member of the mint family, they are hardy and grow easily. They grow larger in full sun (their preference) but pop up everywhere the wind takes them. Their little gray/green furry leaves are a nice contrast to deeper green wherever they grow.

This plant grows just about anywhere and flourishes in dry, poor soil. The crinkly leaves, like Sage, grow opposite each other on a square stem. (and like its mint cousins it is a very hardy plant) Many balls of flowers are attached along the stem at the juncture of the paired leaves. Leaves and flowers have medicinal benefits and should be picked at flowering time. Harvest about a third of the plants top growth, remove the leaves and flowers and chop them. Dry and put in tightly sealed jars as horehound loses its strength quickly.

More on Growing Herbs.

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) has been valued in many cultures as a cure for many things. It is best known as a superb cough remedy. Horehound is named after Horus, the Egyptian god of the sky and light. The Greek physician Hippocrates and other ancients valued horehound to relieve a variety of ailments such as typhoid, worms, jaundice, and bronchitis. Horehound’s botanical genus, Marrubium, is probably derived from the Hebrew, marrob, which translates as “bitter juice”, and it is thought that Horehound was one of the original bitter herbs of the Jewish Passover meal. Folk legend through the ages held that horehound could break magic spells. However, in recent times, the focus is on its reliable use as an expectorant to ease sore throats and coughs. Horehound cough syrup and cough drops were used as early as the 1600’s in England and later brought to this country, and are still taken today as effective remedies.

While horehound can normalize an irregular heartbeat and dilate arteries, I use it as a digestive tonic. It stimulates bile production. But horehound really shines in its ability to help coughs and colds, naturally and without harmful chemicals. Cough and cold medicine in the United States is a very big business. In any given week, almost 10% of American children are using a cough and cold medicine. Unfortunately, these medicines can cause adverse reactions that include dizziness, confusion, headache, nausea, and vomiting. In fact, in 2004 and 2005, over 1,500 children visited emergency rooms because of their reactions to these medications.

Among its chemical constituents are marrubium (a “bitter” that is sometimes called maribun or marrubiin), essential oils, tannins, minerals, wax, saponins, B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Horehound’s compound, marrubium, decreases the thickness of phlegm and promotes the secretion of fluids into the bronchial passageways, producing mucus. It also promotes good digestion. Marrubium stimulates the stomach to secrete digestive juices, helping the stomach to digest food. The reaction also stimulates the flow of bile from the gallbladder, which eases flatulence.

This plant attracts bees and is a wonderful addition to an herb garden. Horehound is helpful for moist, hot bronchitis, flu and lung colds. At the first sign of a cold or flu, chop a handful of horehound leaves and mix them with a tablespoon of honey. Eat them slowly to relieve a sore throat or cough. Horehound syrup is an old-time cough remedy. Make an infusion of one ounce fresh or dried leaves and flowers in a pint of boiling water. Steep it for 10 minutes. Then strain off the herb. Measure the quantity of the remaining liquid and add twice as much honey as the liquid. Mix well and bottle. To sooth a cough, take a teaspoon at a time, about four times a day. This syrup is safe for children and has a pleasant taste. Candied horehound is easy to make and is also found commercially as lozenges and candy. So give some of the old-time remedies a try for a simple, easy relief for a sore throat and cough.

horehound - Marrubium vulgare
a bed of horehound

Note: When wildcrafting, be sure not to confuse with black or stinking horehound, which can be toxic if taken in large doses.

Horehound cough syrup is crazy easy to make. Honey us used in this recipe for two reasons:

  1. It helps sweeten the bitter taste of horehound, and
  2. it is valuable on its own as a cough remedy. A study involving 139 children (between 24 and 60 months of age) found that giving about ½ teaspoon of honey before sleep worked better than diphenhydramine or dextromethorphan (common cough syrup ingredients) at alleviating coughing.

CAUTION: Because of the risk of botulism, never give honey to an infant younger than one year of age.
Older children and adults have more fully-developed systems and are not as susceptible to botulism.

Horehound Cough Syrup

1½ cups boiling water
1 cup packed dried horehound
¾ cup honey

Directions:

Bring water to a boil. Place horehound in a heat-proof bowl or pan and pour the boiling water over the herb. Cover, and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the herb out of the liquid. Measure this infusion. You should have around ¾ cup. Put that in a saucepan. Add an equal amount of honey to the pan and heat on medium until the honey is dissolved. Stir constantly to avoid scorching the honey and do not allow the mixture to boil. Cool and place in a glass jar, amber is always best! Cover and store in the refrigerator.

If you would rather use sugar instead of honey, dissolve 3 lbs of brown sugar in a pint of boiling water and boil until thick. Add any herbs you wish to this to make an herbal syrup.

Take 2 teaspoons three times per day.

Yields approximately 1½ cups

Safety:

  • There are no contraindications to horehound and no known side effects; however, it is not recommended for use during pregnancy, but simply because tests have not been conducted to ensure its safety (in addition, some sources indicate that it may be an abortifacient). If you are pregnant or nursing, check with your doctor before using. Horehound is natural, but it can still be powerful and large doses can cause nausea and vomiting.