HOREHOUND - A BITTER HERB: TRADITIONS ,HISTORY AND MEDICINAL USES
There are forty species of horehound around the globe, but white horehound is indigenous to Europe, North Africa and Central Asia. It has become naturalized in both North and South America and is now considered a pest in Australia, having been introduced there in the 19th century. Black horehound is now no longer in the same Marrubium genus. Horehound is a member of the Lamiaceae family of plants formerly called Labiateae, which include mint, sage and oregano.
Horehound is not a corruption of the word ‘whore’ but hore here means hoary or hairy, as the plant is covered in silky white hairs. It is also called Hoarhound. Marrubium either comes from an ancient Italian city, Maris urbs or from the Hebrew marrob meaning “bitter juice” so as the herb is edible it could have been one of the bitter herbs used in the Jewish Passover. Horseradish and Kos lettuce are typically served on the Seder plate as two of the bitter herbs of the Passover. Bitter herbs include rue and wormwood, but horehound is not as bitter as these.
Some believe that the “hore” is linked with the Egyptian god Horus, god of the Sky and Light, and it is said that horehound was called the “seeds of Horus”. It is also believed that it was known by the names Bull’s blood and Eye of the Star in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians used it for fevers and snake bites and other poison.
However it is mainly used for chest infections and coughs and colds, with the tisane being very good for these. Gerard and Culpeper the Renaissance herbalists both agreed to its efficacy against these minor ailments. Gerard also recommended it for “those that have drunk poyson or have been bitten by serpents” or indeed by “”mad dogges.”
Culpeper had this remedy for chest problems and colds-½ oz of each of the following herbs plus horehound: hyssop, rue, liquorice root and marsh mallow, boiled in 2 pints of water which should be reduced to 1½ pints, then strained and drunk three times a day by the wineglassful Interestingly the German Commission E has approved the use of horehound for bronchial problems and laryngitis.
Dioscorides believed that a decoction of white horehound was effective in cases of tuberculosis, asthma, coughs and believed it was a good immune system booster which could prevent the occurrences of colds and flu. As we now know that it contains vitamins A, C and E as well as some B-complex ones, it can probably help in the case of the common cold. It also contains flavonoids and essential fatty acids, as well as the minerals, iron, and potassium among others. It contains the diterpene marrubin which is known to be an expectorant, so it is good for getting rid of phlegm and mucous. It is useful for sore throats and a good tisane is one that contains equal amounts of white horehound, mullein flowers, thyme and lavender; the other ingredients mask the bitterness of horehound.
It seems that modern scientists believe that along with the South American Trumpet tree (Cecropia obtusfolia) may help those with Type 2 diabetes. Trials have also been conducted with horehound and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) which suggest that both have antioxidant properties and may protect the liver.
Horehounds leaves and flowers have antiseptic and antispasmodic properties and aid digestions, act as a diuretic, and promote sweating during bouts of fever. The plant has been used to promote menstruation, and can be used for its stimulating effects. Interestingly if you grow horehound in the garden with tomato plants, it is said that you will have a better yield, of fruit, but no one quit knows why this might be.
It was believed that horehound when carried with you could protect against sorcery and also it is rumoured that if you put the leaves of this plant in a bowl of water with leaves from the ash tree and place it in a sick room, the person who is ill will soon recover. The fresh green leaves when bruised can be placed on a fresh wound to stop the blood and promote healing, and once they were mixed with fat to make an ointment for wounds.
This tisane below can be made in a decoction too by boiling the herb in the liquid so that it reduced by ¼ pint and used on skin problems such as irritated skin, acne and eczema. The tisane is for chest problems, colds, flu and fevers.
1 oz fresh horehound leaves and flowering tops, or ½ oz dried
1 pint boiling water
honey (not sugar) to taste, or stevia leaves steeped with the horehound ones.
Put the leaves in a pot and pour the boiling water over them.
Leave to steep for 45 mins.
Strain and drink lukewarm.
The dose is a wineglassful 3 or 4 times a day.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).