What is Horehound?

The common Horehound plant, also known as white Horehound, houndsbane, or eye of the star, derives from the mint family, formally known Lamiaceae.  While horehound has a somewhat savory, and noticeably bitter flavor, it remains a close relative of another Hildegard medicine favorite, peppermint.  The horehound plant originally hails from the Mediterranean, but naturalized long ago in Central Europe.

Horehound has small white flowers tucked within the armpits of its leaves. One commonly finds Horehound plants growing along pathways and on walls. This plant loves warm temperatures and nutrient-rich soils, and remains cultivated today as a medicinal plant, mainly in Morocco and Eastern Europe.

Horehound Medicinal Significance

Horehound Cough Drops

Though it seems like an obscure herbal remedy, horehound appears more often than we think.  The famous German cough drops, Ricola depend on horehound as an active cough suppressing agent.

In 2018, Germany’s University of Würzburg honored horehound as medicinal plant of the year.  Those recognizing horehound as medicinal plant of the year acknowledged its obscurity in recent years, while emphasizing its importance as a natural remedy in Traditional German Medicine.

Health Benefits of Horehound Plant

Records show the use of horehound as a medicinal plant for over 2,000 years. Even the pharaohs recognized Horehound as an effective medicinal plant for respiratory conditions. Paracelsus called it the “medicine of the lungs” (see also lungwort remedy).

The horehound plant shows-up in numerous ancient writings of monastic medicine (including the German tome, “Lorscher Arzneibuch”, which dates back to around 800 AD).

Horehound plant

According to these manuscripts, the medicinal use of horehound ranged from colds to digestive issues.  During the 11th century Hildegard von Bingen praised Horehound as a remedy.  She wrote “The Horehound is warm and curative against various diseases…” and recommended it as a remedy for hearing loss, cough and sore throat.

Flavor and Use of Horehound

Horehound possesses an extremely bitter flavor. As a naturopathic remedy it helps balance appetite, irritable stomach, digestive and respiratory problems. Horehound is still used today in folk medicine for the treatment of bronchitis, asthma, dry cough, whooping cough and tuberculosis. In addition, the horehound herb is used for diarrhea with various causes, because of its germ-inhibiting tannins and essential oils.

Even though horehound has long since lost its importance as a medicinal plant, it remains no less effective today for colds and gastrointestinal conditions. Modern monographs, including HMPC, PhEur7 and Commission E recognize these medicinal uses and indications.

Horehound also appears in naturopathy as mouthwash (gargle) to treat mild throat infections.  Due to its high tannin content it works topically for skin and mucous membrane inflammations, ulcers, and rashes.

Horehound to Treat Colds

With some explanation from the doctrine of signatures horehound emerges for harvest at the appropriate time of year (June to September) to help resolve colds. The plant’s essential oils and mucolytic properties help loosen the respiratory tract. In addition, the herb has a soothing and healing effect as an expectorant for coughs and runny (stuffed) noses.

Horehound Plant
Horehound Plant

Horehound appeals particularly to weak and elderly people suffering from the symptoms of chronic cough. The herb helps activate the secretion of respiratory glands, liquefies viscous mucus, and serves as a mild expectorant. In the case of a common cold, horehound helps relieve a fever, relaxes the soreness from inflammation, and strengthens the immune system.

Horehound Herb for Digestion

The bitter substances contained in the horehound plant, particularly marrubiin, stimulate the formation of gastric juice and support healthy digestion. Horehound contains large amounts of marrubin which is why the plant is also known by experts as “Marrubium vulgare”. Like with many bitter herbs, which help to support digestion, horehound effectively balances appetite, while improving intestinal health by working against bloating and flatulence.

Horehound Tea

Horehound tea addresses the symptoms of the common cold and improves intestinal health and digestive issues.

Horehound Tea
Horehound tea for digestion, liver bile and Asthma bronchitis

Horehound Digestive Tea

Pour a cup of hot water over 1 teaspoon of finely chopped Horehound (about one gram), allow 5 minutes to steep, then pass through a sieve and serve. For basic digestive problems, or to stimulate immediate appetite, drink one cup before each meal and several times a day if used as an expectorant cough medicine. Do not exceed a daily dose of 4.5 grams.

No side effects, if used as directed.

Liver Bile Tea Blend with horehound herb

A tea blending Horehound, with peppermint and dandelion root helps address the symptoms of bile problems. This tea requires 20 grams of Horehound herb, 10 grams of peppermint leaves and 10 grams of dandelion root. Pour hot water over 2 teaspoons of this mixture and allow 5 to 10 minutes to steep.

Drink one cup of tea three times a day for six weeks. For preexisting inflammation or a gallstone conditions, consult with your doctor in advance of using this tea mixture.

Horehound tea mixture for bronchial asthma

To prevent and relieve mild asthma attacks, Horehound works together with other herbs in tea mixtures. Only consider this remedy during asthma-free phases.

Combine 20 grams each of Horehound (expectorant), Thyme Herb (antispasmodic and antiseptic) and Fennel Seed (stimulates the cilia in the respiratory tract). Pour a cup of hot water over 1 teaspoon of this mixture three times a day, allow 5 to 10 minutes to steep, sieve, and drink unsweetened.

Repeat over a period of three to four weeks. Thyme should not be taken by those with thyroid dysfunction or severe liver damage.

Horehound Wine for Inflammation in the Throat

Hildegard wrote: “The horehound is warm and has enough juice, and it helps against various illnesses,… And who is ill in the throat, boil horehound in water and strain boiled water through a cloth and add twice as much wine, and let it boil again in a bowl with some fat, and drinks it often, and he will be cured in the throat.“ – Hildegard of Bingen
Horehound Wine
Horehound Wine

Hildegard von Bingen recipe for horehound wine:

  • 1 tablespoon horehound herb
  • 1/8 liter Water
  • 1/4 liter Wine (white or red)
  • 1 tbsp. concentrated butter, butter or cream

Boil the horehound herb in water for about 5 minutes, then strain. Add the double amount of wine and the butter to this “horehound tea” and bring to the boil again.

The wine soup is prepared freshly 2 times a day and drunk warm.

Horehound wine to treat colds

“But also who coughs shall take fennel and dill of the same weight, and add a third of horehound, and he shall boil it with wine, and then he shall strain it with a cloth, and drink it, and the cough shall go away. – Hildegard von Bingen

Horehound wine has a powerful healing effect for those suffering the symptoms of a common cold.

Horehound Wine with Dill
Horehound wine with dill

Made according to a recipe of St. Hildegard, horehound wine contains dill to dry out the cough and fennel herb to soothe.

Hildegard of Bingen’s recipe for the horehound wine to treat cold symptoms:

  • Fennel cabbage, 15 g
  • Dill cabbage, 15 g
  • Andorra, 10 g
  • Wine, 1 liter (white or red)

Cook the herb mixture in wine for approx. 5 minutes, strain and bottle hot.

Adults: 3 x daily approx., 1/16 ltr.

The wine should be warmed up a little before consuming.

Growing Horehound in the Garden

Some consider Horehound a weed, because it grows easily, spreads quickly and is hardly affected by pests. Expert gardeners rely on horehound to keep away harmful caterpillars and insects, by planting horehound directly under fruit trees.

For medicinal purposes, cut off the upper flowering sprouts, at the beginning of the flowering season, in June. Thes cuts measure about ten centimeters in length. Dry this healing remedy (Herba marrubii albi) in thin layers by storing in the shade of a well-ventilated place (a covered balcony, and then stored protected from aromas).

Bringing Horehound Back to the Mainstream

Horehound has been wrongly forgotten. Its rich history over thousands of years as a medicinal herb and remedy supports continued use.  Above all, modern medicine officially recognizes its place as an herbal remedy. Horehound can be bought as tea or juice. Alternatively, stock-up on seeds – so that you always have Horehound ready in your own garden pharmacy.


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