Botanical and Common Names
- Family Labiatae
- Marrubium vulgare (Horehound/Hoarhound, White Horehound, Common Horehound, Houndsbane, Marrubium; Spanish: Marrubio, Manrubio, Mastranso)
- Ballota Nigra (Black Horehound, Black Stinking Horehound)
- None listed.
Indigenous from the Mediterranean region to central Asia, horehound has since become established in central Europe and introduced into America, South Africa, and Australia, flourishing in dry, bare, or open areas. A member of the mint family, it is a square-stemmed perennial, growing to about twenty inches and having toothed, downy grayish leaves and a long woody stem that bears rings of double-lipped, white flowers that evolve into a burr containing a few brown or black seeds. Horehound is gathered in the spring.
Black horehound is considered a weed in Europe, thriving in open areas, pavement cracks, by roadsides, and mostly near human habitation. It was intentionally introduced to the US, but it also grows in Asia. Black horehound is a straggling, strong-smelling perennial, growing to about three feet and having oval, toothed leaves and pinkish-purple flowers in whorls at the base of the upper leaves. It is harvested when in flower in the summer.
Its Latin name is thought to have come from the Romans who named it after an ancient town, but it may also have derived from the Hebrew marrob, meaning bitter herb, as it is still eaten during Passover.
The Romans and other ancient civilizations relied on horehound to treat numerous ailments, including whooping cough, tuberculosis, jaundice, menstrual cramps, and constipation.
The Egyptians used it to repel flies, among other things.
Horehound has been a remedy for chest problems since ancient times and taken mainly in the form of a syrup. The Greek physician, Dioscorides (40-90 CE), recommended a decoction to treat tuberculosis, asthma, and coughs. He also recommended a plaster of Black Horehound leaves and salt for dog bites. He said that a balm made from dried leaves and honey would help purify infected wounds and ulcers.
In 1597, the herbalist John Gerard praised horehound as the “most singular remedy against the cough and wheezing.”
It apparently was brought to the New World by Spanish friars; and, having escaped from many a mission garden, it now grows wild throughout the temperate zones of Mexico and the southern US.
Horehound is most familiar as a flavouring for candies and some beverages.
Although it has a very long history of medicinal uses and approved by European health authorities, the US FDA removed it from the approved list in 1989, saying there was not enough evidence that it had any medicinal use. However, naturopaths, herbalists, and other practitioners continue to use it, based on its extensive history as a botanical medicine.
- heals wounds
- stimulates bile flow
- stabilizes heart rhythm
(b) Black Horehound
- antiemetic (relieves vomiting)
- stimulates bile flow
- diterpenes (up to 1% marrubiin)
- alkaloids (including betonicine and stachydrine)
- volatile oil (up to 0.6%)
- Aerial parts
- Marrubiin is a strong expectorant and bitter. As an expectorant, it is believed to be responsible for thinning and loosening airway mucus making it easier to cough up.
Horehound has long been used to treat respiratory infections, including colds and asthma, and to help heal the membranes. Because of the bitterness of the herb, it is used mainly in the form of a syrup.
As a bitter tonic, horehound can be made into decoctions, infusions, and tinctures to increase the appetite and support the function of the stomach. It is most beneficial in influenza cases where the patient has lost the desire to eat.
It is used to treat liver and gallbladder complaints, dyspepsia, appetite loss, and intestinal worms.
It is also used to normalize heart rhythm and improve regularity.
Externally, infusions and decoctions help heal skin conditions.
Horehound has also been used in the fields of gynecology and obstetrics as it as an alternative effect on the menstrual cycle, as well as expelling the placenta after birth. This is achieved by taking a strong infusion or decoction immediately after the birth.
Black horehound is not used as much today as its medicinal effect is inferior to horehound, butit can still be substituted for horehound when nothing else is available. It is perhaps the most useful when nausea stems from disorders of the inner ear as opposed to those of the digestive system.