Horehound is a perennial plant with small white flowers found growing in the wild throughout Europe and Asia. All parts of the plant are used medicinally.1
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Horehound is an expectorant herb, meaning it helps loosen bronchial secretions and eliminate mucus.
Expectorant herbs help loosen bronchial secretions and make elimination of mucus easier. Numerous herbs are traditionally considered expectorants, though most of these have not been proven to have this effect in clinical trials. Horehound has expectorant properties, possibly due to the presence of a diterpene lactone in the plant, which is known as marrubiin.3
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Horehound has a long history of use for relieving coughs.
The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot, catnip, comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound, elecampane, mullein, lobelia, hyssop, licorice, mallow, (Malvia sylvestris), red clover, ivy leaf, pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion, (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.
Indigestion, Heartburn, and Low Stomach Acidity
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Horehound’s major active constituent increases the flow of saliva and gastric juice.
Bitter herbs are thought to stimulate digestive function by increasing saliva production and promoting both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.4 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.5. 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.
Horehound contains a number of constituents, including alkaloids, flavonoids, diterpenes (e.g., marrubiin), and trace amounts of volatile oils.6 The major active constituent marrubiin and possibly its precursor, premarrubiin, are herbal bitters that increase the flow of saliva and gastric juice, thereby stimulating the appetite.7 Similar to horehound, elecampane has been used by herbalists to treat people with indigestion.
Carminatives (also called aromatic digestive tonics or aromatic bitters) may be used to relieve symptoms of indigestion, particularly when there is excessive gas. It is believed that carminative agents work, at least in part, by relieving spasms in the intestinal tract.8
Horehound was reportedly first used in ancient Rome by the physician Galen, who recommended it as a therapy for coughs and other respiratory ailments. Like Galen, Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th-century English pharmacist, commented that it was helpful for a cough and was also useful in helping remove stubborn phlegm from the lung. Similarly, American Eclectic physicians (doctors who recommended herbs) of the 19th century remarked on its value as a medicinal plant not only for coughs and asthma but also in menstrual complaints.2
Horehound contains a number of constituents, including alkaloids, flavonoids, diterpenes (e.g., marrubiin), and trace amount of volatile oils.9 The major active constituent in horehound is marrubiin, which is thought to be responsible for the expectorant (promotion of coughing up of mucus) action of the herb. In addition, marrubiin contributes to the bitter taste of horehound, an action that increases the flow of saliva and gastric juice, thereby stimulating the appetite.10 These actions likely explain the long-standing use of horehound as a cough suppressant and expectorant as well as a bitter digestive tonic.
For adults, the German Commission E monograph recommends approximately 3/4 teaspoon (4.5 grams) of horehound per day or 2–6 tablespoons (30–90 ml) of the pressed juice.11 Alternatively, horehound tea can be prepared from approximately 1/4–1/2 teaspoon (1–2 grams) of root boiled in about 7 ounces (200 ml) of water for ten minutes. Three cups (750 ml) of this tea can be drunk per day. Horehound is sometimes found in herbal lozenges that are used for coughs.
1. Wren RC. Potter’s New Cyclopedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. Essex, England: C.W. Daniel Co., 1988, 146.
2. Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1991, 216–7.
3. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley, 1996, 303.
4. Schulz V, Hänsel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician’s Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed, Berlin: Springer, 1998, 168–73.
5. 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.
6. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1996, 303.
7. Bradley PR. British Herbal Compendium, vol. 1. Great Britain: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1990, 218–9.
8. Forster HB, Niklas H, Lutz S. Antispasmodic effects of some medicinal plants. Planta Med 1980;40:303–19.
9. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 303.
10. Bradley PR. British Herbal Compendium, vol 1. Great Britain: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1990, 218–9.
11. 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, 127–8.
Last Review: 11-07-2012
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