The herb horehound has been used since Roman times as a treatment for coughs and other respiratory problems, as well as rabies. It was popular among Native North Americans as well. Teas and syrups of horehound continued to be used through the nineteenth century for coughs and lung complaints, as well as for menstrual problems. Although the herb itself has a strong bitter taste, horehound candy is considered pleasant by some, and it is still available in traditional candy stores.
Horehound is recommended by some current herbalists as a treatment for cough, asthma, and sore throat. In addition, like other bitter herbs, horehound is thought to enhance appetite, and Germany’s Commission E has approved it for this use. However, there is no reliable scientific evidence to support these uses. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove a treatment effective, and none have been performed on horehound. (For information on why such studies are essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?)
It is commonly stated that horehound loosens bronchial mucous, but there is no meaningful evidence to support this claim. Very weak evidence (far too weak to be relied upon at all), hints that horehound or its constituents marrubenol and marrubiin might have smooth-muscle relaxant,1 antidiabetic,2,3 blood pressure–lowering,4 and nonnarcotic pain-reducing effects.5
A typical dose of horehound is 1.5 grams three times daily of the dry herb or 2–6 tablespoons daily of the pressed juice.
Horehound is thought to be relatively nontoxic, but it has not undergone any meaningful safety study. Horehound is traditionally not recommended for use by pregnant women. Safety in young children, nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been evaluated.
1. El Bardai S, Morel N, Wibo M, et al. The vasorelaxant activity of marrubenol and marrubiin from Marrubiumvulgare. Planta Med. 2003;69:75–7.
2. Roman Ramos R, Alarcon-Aguilar F, Lara-Lemus A, et al. Hypoglycemic effect of plants used in Mexico as antidiabetics. Arch Med Res. 1992;23:59–64.
3. Novaes AP, Rossi C, Poffo C, et al. Preliminary evaluation of the hypoglycemic effect of some Brazilian medicinal plants. Therapie. 2001;56:427–30.
4. El Bardai S, Lyoussi B, Wibo M, et al. Pharmacological evidence of hypotensive activity of Marrubium vulgare and Foeniculum vulgare in spontaneously hypertensive rat. Clin Exp Hypertens. 2001;23:329–43.
5. De Jesus RA, Cechinel-Filho V, Oliveira AE, et al. Analysis of the antinociceptive properties of marrubiin isolated from Marrubium vulgare. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:111–5.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015
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