Herb to Know: Horehound


| August/September 2002



08-02-018-horehnd.jpg


Photo by Dawna Edwards

Horehound. The name likely calls to mind a big glass jar of vaguely molasses-flavored penny candy at the general store, or perhaps a package of old-fashioned dark-brown cough drops. It may not, however, summon up a picture of the source of these products, a rugged perennial herb native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia, naturalized in the bleakest spots in North America and at home in almost any herb garden from Zone 3 to Zone 10.

The name may suggest a breed of gray dog, but that’s misleading. “Hore-” does mean hoary (gray or white in Old English), but “-hound” is not canine; it’s simply an old name for the herb. The generic name Marrubium is the name by which the Romans knew the herb, and vulgare means common. Other opinions are that Marrubium refers to “an ancient town of Italy” or to a Hebrew word for bitter. Some references list horehound among the bitter herbs Jews eat at Passover, but according to Jo Ann Gardner (“Bitter Herbs: A New Look at the Plants of the Bible,” The Herb Companion, April/May 1990), it is not among the original bitter herbs of the Bible.

Several other herbs of the mint family also are called horehound, resembling Marrubium in that their flowers are clustered in the leaf axils. Water horehounds belong to the genus Lycopus, and black (stinking) horehound and Greek horehound to the genus Ballota.

Using Horehound

In the language of flowers, horehound offers wishes for good health, and medical practitioners of many cultures have proclaimed its efficacy in treating a wide variety of ailments, of plants as well as people. Herbalists of old prescribed it for fevers and malaria and as an antidote for bites of snakes or rabid dogs, for ingested poison, and even for magic! It was recommended for killing flies and for treating cankerworm in trees. Horehound has traditionally been used to treat disorders of the stomach, gallbladder, and respiratory system as well as hepatitis. Teas and cough syrups were popular preparations, but the herb was also taken as snuff (to treat yellowness of the eyes), and fresh leaves were poulticed with honey “to cleanse foul and filthy ulcers.” Marrubium, a chemical compound extracted from horehound, is an expectorant. Large doses of horehound are purgative and may cause irregular heartbeat, and the juice may cause dermatitis.

In England, horehound was made into “an appetizing and healthful” ale and beverage teas are palatable if heavily sweetened to disguise the bitterness. Horehound candy is easy to make (see recipe on page 19).

Growing Horehound

Horehound has erect, woolly, square stalks 2 to 3 feet tall, and wrinkled, scalloped, gray-green opposite leaves that are smooth or downy above and fuzzier below. From June to September, rings of small white flowers crowd in the leaf axils in prickly white calyces, and the minutely hooked seeds are carried to new sites on the fur of passing animals. The fresh leaves smell musky (some say fruit- or thyme-scented), but the odor disappears on drying. Horehound is an important bee herb.





mother earth news fair

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Oct. 21-22, 2017
Topeka, KS.

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!

LEARN MORE