Horehound, Marrubium vulgare, is also called hoarhound, common horehound, white horehound and marrubium. It is in the same family as mint, and the leaves look quite similar to some types.
The picture is of a plant growing in the wild, and shows both the attractive young leaves and the rather scraggy appearance of flowers which have “gone over”. In a garden, you would probably cut these off long before they reached this stage. The picture inset top right illustrates the flower buds, and if you look carefully, you can see that some small flowers are just emerging from the lowest flowerbud/cluster.
Horehound is a native of Europe, its range stretching from central Scotland to North Africa, central and western Asia. It is a hardy perennial which reaches a height and spread of around 20 inches (50cm), and is not a fussy plant, growing anywhere except in full shade. Subject to statutory control as a weed in Australia and possibly other countries.
It is one of the five bitter herbs which should be eaten at Passover in the Jewish religion (the others are coriander, horseradish, lettuce and nettles). Not being Jewish myself, I’ve never heard of anyone eating horehound before, so this was an interesting discovery. The leaves can also be used to flavor beer and liqueurs, or for tea – though unlike most of the other “bitter herbs” it is, in fact, extremely bitter and will probably need honey or some other sweetener to render it palatable.
So far as medicinal usage goes, horehound’s main purpose is as a cough remedy, for which it was first used (so far as we know) by the ancient Egyptians. It works as an expectorant, thinning and loosening phlegm and making coughs more productive. It is also useful for asthma and other breathing disorders, such as COPD, as a mild laxative and diuretic.
An infusion of the whole herb can also be used to treat shingles and externally for eczema.
Finally, it is said that equal parts of horehound and ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) can be used to treat rattlesnake bite – which is passing strange, as rattlesnakes are native to the Americas, whereas the plants being recommended as a treatment are from across the Atlantic.
Because of its bitterness, horehound is often made into cough candy. It can also be used as a standard infusion, which is made by pouring 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water over 3 handfuls of fresh chopped herb or 30g (1 ounce) of fresh. Leave to stand for at least 15 minutes and up to 4 hours, then strain for use. Sweeten with honey as required. The dosage is 120ml (a half US cup, 4 fl oz) per day.
Horehound is basically a weed, so it will respond best to organic treatment, quite apart from the fact that foreign chemicals may obliterate or at least mask its essential qualities. To find out more about growing organic horehound visit the Gardenzone.