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White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), also known as Common Horehound, is indigenous to the United Kingdom but it’s also found in Canada, throughout Europe, the US, Australia, Southern Africa, and western Asia including India and there’s a reason so many people are interested in the horehound tea benefits that it has to offer. This hardy perennial – a member of the mint family – grows both wild and in cultivation.
The green, wrinkled leaves that are covered by white hairs are the most potent part of the plant in terms of health-giving properties. The tiny white flowers that cluster around the top of the stems in June and August also offer benefits but to a lesser degree.
The active ingredients in the leaves are a range of vitamins and minerals (iron, potassium, volatile oil, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E) and – most importantly – Diterpene lactone marrubiin or bitter marrubiin.
The leaves and flowers of the plant have been used for medicinal purposes for many centuries and, along with many other natural products and remedies, are now enjoying a resurgence of popularity.
Traditional and historic uses
The earliest records of the use of this plant come from Egypt and ancient Rome. Egyptian priests believed that the plant was capable of fending off disease-causing spells and it was also used to counteract poisoning. The plant was also used for patients with respiratory problems. The ancient Romans used it as snake bite anti-venom and as a poison antidote. There are also records that show that the most common applications were for colds and coughs and as an antiseptic.
Native American tribes used it for centuries. In addition to chest problems, they used it to treat skin conditions, to flush out the kidneys, and to treat diarrhea and stomach aches. Pregnant women were also given the herb as a pre-delivery aid. These tribes made ointments, poultices and infusions from the herb.
In Britain in the 1500 and the 1600’s several respected and pioneering doctors and herbalists wrote about this herb and its benefits, particularly for those with chronic or acute respiratory conditions. The first settlers in Australia used it, as did American doctors in the 1700 and 1800’s. While the settlers in America still administered the herb for lung conditions they also began to use it for menstrual problems.
Today, it continues to be used in cough syrups, throat lozenges, and teas.
Benefits of Horehound Tea
The reputation of the white variety of the flowers and leaves as a health-giving herb is primarily based on historic references and on anecdotal rather than scientific or clinical evidence. However, some research findings contradict each other with certain studies claiming that it offers no proven benefits for a certain condition and other studies with findings that are inconclusive or do in fact support health claims.
Anecdotal and traditional benefits
The following list outlines the health benefits that have been ascribed to this plant over the centuries:
- Acts as a decongestant by thinning and loosening phlegm in the lungs
- As a result of the above, it acts as expectorant as it becomes easier to get rid of the phlegm causing irritation and breathing difficulties
- Eases congestion in the nose and the sinus cavities associated with colds, flu and by thinning the mucus
- Has anti-inflammatory properties which sooth the throat and lungs
- Aids and boosts digestion and prevents indigestion and acid reflux
- Promotes the healthy production of bile and other fluids necessary in the digestive tract which in turn reduces abdominal bloating and gas
- Eases uterine and digestive system cramps
- Has diuretic properties so it helps to counteract water retention
- Aids in the removal of some intestinal wormsf
- Has antiseptic properties so it can be used as a disinfectant for minor wounds
- Lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels
According to Drugs.com:
“Preparations of Horehound are still largely used as expectorants, throat lozenges and tonics [and] may, indeed, be considered one of the most popular pectoral remedies”
Preparations incorporating this herb include syrup for administration to children for colds, coughs, and upset stomachs. In larger doses it is a purgative. This source also states that Horehound tea is most effective against the common cold.
Horehound tea benefits under investigation and / or supported by clinical evidence:
More popular online sources such as WebMD point out that while there is some – including early – clinical evidence to support a range of health claims, it is insufficient at this stage and further and ongoing scientific studies are required. The conditions they list include Type 2 Diabetes, indigestion, constipation, fluid retention, liver problems, bloating and flatulence, coughs and colds, gallbladder problems, appetite loss, and superficial or minor wounds and skin conditions.
The website Naturalremedies.org takes a more detailed and rigorous approach in their discussion of Horehound and its global status in terms of research and more mainstream medical acceptance. They point out that, “Despite recommendations and assertions of beneficial usage over many centuries, the use of it has surprisingly little support in clinical research and medical studies.”
This source also notes that there are contradictions. For instance, the FDA ruled in1989 that the herb is not an effective expectorant. However, it is still used in some cough suppressants sold in the US. Findings and rulings in Germany didn’t contradict the FDA findings with regard to respiratory benefits. They did, though, indicate that it is effective in terms of indigestion, appetite loss, as a digestive juices and bile stimulant. Significantly, the German researchers also found no negative drug interactions, contraindications or side effects.
On a more positive note, early findings in a number of studies and trials are indicating that the white variety does warrant its centuries-old reputation. The evidence is not overwhelming but it is promising. At this stage studies show that this plant does lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels and possesses both pain relieving and antibacterial properties. Studies in Italy and Brazil show that it has both pain reducing and expectorant properties, which contradicts earlier findings, and antioxidant and antioxidant benefits.
How to make Horehound Tea
On balance there seems little doubt that it offers a great deal in terms of health-giving or at least health-promoting properties. One of the easiest and most effective ways to benefit from this plant is by making a tea from either fresh or dried leaves or flowers. Making the tea is simple!
- Place 1 tablespoon of dried or fresh leaves or flowers for each cup in a pot or container (preferably not a plastic or metal one as they can taint the tea)
- Pour boiling water over the leaves or flowers
- Cover the container so that the essential oils released by the water don’t escape with the steam
- Leave the tea to steep or draw for at least 5 minutes. If you want stronger tea it will have to steep for longer
- Pour the tea through a strainer to remove any plant matter.
As with most other teas it is a case of personal taste as to how strong the tea should be and whether a sweetener such as honey is needed. Lemon, aniseed, and peppermint can all be used to alter the taste. Milk should not be added, however.
Possible side-effects, contraindications & interactions
Just because this is a natural, plant-based product does not mean that it is 100% safe. There are certain individuals and circumstances where one should be particularly cautious. Generally speaking, it should not be consumed or applied topically by:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding as the effect of the plant on this group is not sufficiently well known
- Individuals who suffer from diabetes and are on medication for the condition as their blood sugar levels may drop too low
- Patients with low or high blood pressure or any kind of heart condition including arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) as the herb may exacerbate this
- Those who are on prescribed medications for water retention, sinus and / or lung congestion, expectorants, hormone therapy, statins or other medications to lower cholesterol, cold or flu preparations, or laxatives.
It should be kept in mind that ingesting too much of this plant can cause vomiting and / or diarrhea.
Despite some contradictory scientific or clinical studies there seems very little doubt that it offers a range of very valuable health-promoting benefits.
But, as with any other substance that one consumes, caution must be used. It is crucial to consult your medical practitioner before you start to explore the horehound tea benefits to ensure that there are no potential risks or contraindications in terms of medical conditions you are suffering from and medications or supplements you are already taking.