Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)

A Traditional Cough Remedy

Fast facts: relieves coughs

Once upon a time, Europeans believed horehound would help ward off witches’ spells. But whatever the herb’s anti-ghoul properties, they apparently weren’t powerful enough to prevent the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from casting a spell over horehound in 1989. Over the protests of herbalists that year, the FDA ruled horehound ineffective against coughs and banned it from over-the-counter cough remedies.

That was news to traditional herbalists. They’ve been recommending horehound to treat coughs for literally thousands of years. You might think the FDA ruling was the end of the story, but it’s not. You can still buy the herb, you can still buy horehound candies, and some herbal experts say the final word has not yet been said on this topic. David P. Carew, Ph.D., professor emeritus of medicinal and natural products chemistry at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, for example, actually whips up his own tasty, old-fashioned horehound candy at home. “I like the flavor of horehound myself,” says Dr. Carew. “I also think there’s some mucus-ejecting action in horehound, but I’m sure it all depends on how strong the extract is that you put in.”

Horehound’s phlegm-evicting component is thought to be released when the herb is cooked. Called marrubiin, this chemical apparently irritates the lining of the throat, causing horehound’s expectorant action, according to Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D., professor of pharmacognosy at Purdue University School of Pharmacy in West Lafayette, Indiana, and author of The Honest Herbal.

During one study, marrubiin was found to increase the production of bile in laboratory animals, says John Michael Edwards, Ph.D., associate dean of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. “Presumably this means it would stimulate all sorts of secretions,” says Dr. Edwards. “Think of it this way: Something that increases one secretion is likely to stimulate others.” Horehound has never been just a cough remedy. It has had other uses over the years as well, from luring bees to gardens and adding a flavorful punch to English ales to featured status as a bitter herb during Jewish Passover. One group of physicians in 19th-century America also prescribed it for colds, asthma, intestinal worms and menstrual complaints. None of these uses has been scientifically investigated, however.

Old-Fashioned Relief? If you’d like to try horehound tea, pour a cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of dried horehound leaves and steep for ten minutes. Sweeten to taste. The candies are hard to find, and if you do find them, you’ll see that they no longer come with a medicinal label. You can judge for yourself whether the ancients were right about horehound’s ability to relieve a cough. You can also enjoy the candies just as a treat, although the sweet/bitter taste is unusual, to say the least.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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