Herbs for Health: Herbal Remedies for Coughing and Prostate Health

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Saw palmetto

A cough remedy: Horehound revisited

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), a member of the mint family native to Europe and naturalized in North and South America, has come under scrutiny in Brazil, where researchers have been studying the herb’s usefulness in the treatment of gastrointestinal illnesses. In laboratory tests, a water-and-alcohol extract of the leaves and roots reduced smooth muscle spasms.

This bitter herb has been used for at least 400 years to stimulate digestion, break up phlegm, and relieve coughs, sore throats, bronchitis, and other upper respiratory ailments. Nevertheless, because ­scientific studies supporting horehound’s use as a cough suppressant were not available, the Food and Drug Administration declared horehound ineffective as a cough suppressant and expectorant. Horehound cough drops, once commonplace, are seldom seen in the United States today. In Germany, however, horehound preparations are approved for supportive treatment of coughs, colds, and as a digestive aid and appetite stimulant.

The Brazilian researchers plan further studies of the effect of horehound extract on intestinal, cardiac, and bronchial muscles along with chemical and pharmacological studies. They hope to assess the effect of horehound on relieving coughs.(2)

Prostate health: Saw palmetto’s promise

Researchers from St. Agnes Hospital in Bocholt, Germany, and the Strathmann AG Company in Hamburg, Germany, recently concluded that an extract of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is an effective treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia, an enlargement of the prostate gland that affects roughly 50 percent of men over the age of fifty. The three-year study illustrated that a 160-mg daily dose of saw palmetto extract reduced symptoms associated with the condition, especially the urge to urinate during the night.

More than 80 percent of the 315 subjects completing the clinical trial and the 89 urologists conducting the study rated the treatment as good to very good. Urologists measured the nighttime urge to urinate, daytime urination frequency, size and congestion of the prostate, the amount of residual urine in the bladder, volume, flow time, the time for peak flow, and peak and average flow rates.

Most previous studies of saw palmetto have lasted a year or less, but clinical studies with conventional drugs have suggested that trials should last for at least one year because symptoms often improve during the first six months of treatment and then worsen. Subjects in the Bocholt study, however, experienced improvement in their symptoms by the end of the first year, and the improvement was sustained during the next two years.

Saw palmetto provided a relatively low-cost treatment and was generally well tolerated with less than 2 percent of participants experiencing slight gastrointestinal disturbances. Study participants who rated the treatment as good or very good experienced no further exacerbation of their condition.(1)


(1) Bach, D., and L. Ebeling. “Long-term Drug Treatment of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia”. Phytomedicine 1996, 3(2):105-111.
(2) Schlemper, V., et al. “Antispasmodic Effects of Hydroalcoholic Extract of Marrubium vulgare on Isolated Tissues”. Phytomedicine 1996, 3(2): 211-216. 

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Herbs for Heath
“Herbs for Health” is offered bimonthly by the American Botanical Council and the Herb Research Foundation as a supplement to ­The Herb Companion.
Editor, Steven Foster
American Botanical Council
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“Herbs for Health” is intended as an educational service, not a source of medical advice or a guide for self-medication. Please consult a qualified health-care professional for treatment of any serious health problems. For further information on any of the topics in “Herbs for Health”, write the American Botanical Council or the Herb Research Foundation. 

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