Latin Names: Marrubium vulgare

Other Names: Farasiun (Arabic); Eduosmos agrios (Greek); Farasiyun (Persian); Marrubio (Spanish)

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom, Lamiaceae (Dead Nettle) family

Part Used: The leaf and herb; extract and essential oil of the leaf and herb

Basic Qualities: Avicenna calls Horehound moderately heating and drying, but says that other authorities claim it to be Hot and Dry in the third degree.

Other Qualities: According to Avicenna, Horehound has opening properties as well as cleansing, dissolvent and diluting properties.  I find Horehound to have a good mix or krasis of aromatic properties that open up the lungs and bronchial passages while dissolving phlegm, bitter properties that cleanse the liver and spleen, as well as stimulate the stomach and digestion, and an interesting blend of softening emollient and binding astringent properties that help soothe and heal wounds as well as minor irritations of the throat and bronchial passages.

Taste: Aromatic, pungent and bitter; an interesting blend of mild astringency and soft, soothing demulcent properties as well.

Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – lowers sugar levels in the Blood; vitalizes the Blood and boosts immunity.  Phlegmatic – dissolves phlegm and mucus in the lungs and respiratory tract with its aromatic properties; improves fluid metabolism and acts as a mild diuretic.  Choleric / Melancholic – removes obstructions from the liver and spleen, improves the flow of bile and stimulates the appetite and digestion.

Tropism: The lungs, throat, bronchi and respiratory tract; the blood; the liver, stomach and spleen, as well as the hepatobiliary system.

Constituents and Pharmacology: Marrubin, a bitter diterpene lactone; terpenes, alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins, essential oil, tannins, resins, vitamin C, mucilage, minerals.

Medicinal Properties: Antiasthmatic, antidiabetic, antitussive, bitter tonic, cholagogue, diaphoretic, demulcent, emmenagogue, expectorant, immune stimulant, pectoral, stomachic, tonic, vermifuge, vulnerary.

Cautions and Contraindications: Excessive use may overstimulate the heart and cause arrhythmias. Do not take if pregnant or breast feeding, as Horehound is an emmenagogue.

Medicinal Uses: The tea or infusion is commonly used for coughs, asthma, lung congestion, sore throat, and as a bitter tonic to stimulate the stomach, digestion and bile flow. Horehound is an important ingredient in herbal cough lozenges and cough syrups, and is also used to make candy. Some use its blood sugar lowering effects to treat diabetes, and there are some reports that it can be used as an immune stimulant in the treatment of cancer. Hot Horehound tea can be used to promote sweating and break a fever, especially in the treatment of colds and respiratory tract infections. Traditionally, Horehound was also used to treat menstrual complaints, and as an antidote to treat the bites of dogs – hence the name. Horehound has also been used as a vermifuge to expel intestinal worms.

Other Uses: Horehound is used to make candy and cough lozenges.

Preparation and Dosage: Horehound is a fairly mild, gentle herb, and so, it can be prepared in standard doses. A heaping teaspoon of the dried herb per cup of boiling water can be used to make an infusion; steep for two to three minutes, strain and drink. For medicinal purposes, prepare as above, but use a heaping tablespoon of the herb per cup of boiling water. For respiratory complaints, drink the infusion hot; for digestive complaints, drink it warm. The tea may be sweetened with lemon and honey if so desired. A fluid extract, or the essential oil of Horehound may be used in the preparation of cough syrups and cough lozenges, which are very popular.

Herbal Formulation: Horehound seems to combine best with various members of the Mint family. In addition to the usual aromatic properties that these other Mint family herbs have, Horehound adds the dimension of a bitter tonic.

Classic Combinations: With Peppermint (Mentha piperita) in teas and lozenges to treat a sore throat, as well to stimulate the stomach, appetite and digestion; the hot infusion can also be used to break fevers.  With Wild Thyme / Mother of Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) as an aromatic pectoral to dissolve phlegm and open up congested respiratory passages; this combo also has a beneficial effect on the liver, digestion and bile flow.  With Yarrow (Achillea milfolium) as a bitter tonic to treat indigestion, a poor appetite, and a congested liver; this combo is also useful in treating menstrual disorders.  With Sage (Salvia officinalis) to treat hoarseness and sore throat, and also as a bitter tonic to treat indigestion and liver complaints.

Description: Horehound is probably best known as a principal ingredient in herbal cough drops and throat lozenges.  In European herbal medicine, it has long been used to treat coughs and sore throat, and to open up the airways and improve respiratory function.  Yet, that is just one side of this multidimensional herb; the other main side of its therapeutic action is to act as a bitter tonic to stimulate the appetite and digestion, to increase gastric and other digestive secretions, and to improve the flow of bile.  There are still other health benefits of this marvelous herb, albeit those that don’t have as much scientific research and clinical evidence behind them: Horehound has also been used to lower blood sugar in type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, as well as to stimulate immunity, with some even avowing its usefulness for that purpose in treating cancer, for immune support.

Like any medicinal herb when viewed from a traditional medical perspective, Horehound’s therapeutic actions and benefits flow from its temperature, taste and energetics.  First of all, Horehound is an aromatic herb, with its aromatic essences going to open up the airways and dissolve thickened phlegm secretions for easier expulsion as an expectorant; these aromatic properties, like those of the Mints, can also be useful in stimulating the appetite and settling an upset stomach.  Secondly, Horehound is bitter, although not strongly or overwhelmingly so; it qualifies as a bitter tonic herb, which increases the gastric, biliary and digestive secretions, stimulating the appetite and digestion.  In herbal medicine, there is an old proverb: What is bitter to the tongue is sweet to the stomach.  And thirdly, Horehound has an interesting combination of both a slight binding astringency as well as soothing demulcent properties, which make it very useful in treating sore, irritated or inflamed gastrointestinal and respiratory mucosa – hence its usefulness in treating coughs and sore throat.  This sums up the main therapeutic actions of Horehound in a nutshell.

Avicenna, in Volume 2 of his Canon of Medicine, has some other interesting uses for the herb.  He tells us that the extract of Horehound is useful in treating chronic earache because it cleanses and opens the auditory aperture.  For this condition, I presume that the fluid extract of the herb would be injected into the ear.  Horehound extract, when mixed with honey, he tells us, can strengthen the eyesight; from the text, it is unclear whether he is talking about the topical application of the Horehound / honey mixture to the eyes, or the internal administration of this mixture.  He also tells us, of course, that Horehound is useful in clearing up the chest and lungs and facilitating the emission of phlegm and sputum as an expectorant.  Avicenna calls Horehound a laxative for the liver and spleen, and by this he means that it is useful in cleansing or removing obstructions from these organs, probably of a bilious nature.  Horehound helps in the discharge of menses and has a purifying effect on the female reproductive system.  And finally, Avicenna recommends making a poultice from Horehound with salt to treat rabies from a dog bite – hence the popular name, of course.

Nicholas Culpeper calls Horehound an herb of Mercury, with that planet governing the throat, lungs and respiratory tract.  He recommends either a decoction of the dried herb with seed, or the juice of the green herb mixed with honey for those who have a cough, or who are short winded, or who have fallen into consumption.  He recommends using Horehound with Orris root to loosen up tough phlegm in the lungs and chest, and facilitate its expectoration.  Like Avicenna, Culpeper tells us that Horehound is often given to women to bring down their courses, or menses, as well as to expel the afterbirth.  The fresh leaves used with honey, he says, stay running or creeping sores; used with vinegar, Horehound heals tetters (an old English term for pus filled sores or skin lesions).  Galen, he tells us, says that Horehound is useful for removing obstructions from the liver and spleen; Matthiolus, he tells us, recommends drinking a decoction of Horehound for those who have hard livers.  An ointment prepared from the green leaves of Horehound boiled in old hog’s grease, he tells us, is good for healing the bites of dogs, as well as pains that come by the pricking of thorns.  Horehound tea also expels worms.

This article on Horehound was prompted by, and is dedicated to, an article that was written by Michele Berman, MD on the medicinal and therapeutic effects of Horehound, which was written for the website .  In it, she takes a look at the various literature and evidence surrounding this popular herb, as well as the regulatory situation surrounding its use in both the United States and Europe.  In addition to what I have written above, Dr. Berman cites scientific studies and evidence for its effectiveness as an intestinal antispasmodic as well as an anti-ulcer herb, which were interesting.  And most importantly, for the curious and inquisitive among us, she reveals what the other nine ingredients in Ricola cough lozenges are besides Horehound.  They are: Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Elder berries (Sambucus nigra), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Mallow (Malva spp.), Sage (Salvia officinalis), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Linden flowers (Tilia europaea), Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) and Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum).  A link to the article is included in the Sources section below.

Related Species: Black Horehound (Ballota nigra) is related to the White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), since it also belongs to the Lamiaceae, or Dead Nettle family; it is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and Central Asia.  The tea or tincture is traditionally used to treat nausea, vomiting and motion sickness; to treat menorrhagia, or menstruation that is too heavy; and as a mild sedative to allay anxiety and treat insomnia.  It is also good for gout when the fresh leaves are applied topically.  Black Horehound may not be safe to take during pregnancy; it should also not be taken when breast feeding.  Black Horehound should not be confused with White Horehound

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The Canon of Medicine, Vol. 2, by Avicenna, translated and compiled by Laleh Bakhtiar, pp. 561 – 564.  Published by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., distributed by Kazi Publications, Chicago, IL, USA. 
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, by Nicholas Culpeper, pp. 135 – 136.  @ Wordsworth Editions, Ltd., 1995.  Published by Wordsworth Editions Ltd., Ware, Hertfordshire, UK. 

DISCLAIMER:  The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical disease or condition. The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek the services of a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his or her symptoms or condition persist or worsen.