Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)

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A perennial of the Mint family, Horehound’s leaves and flower tops have long been used in home remedies as a bitter tonic for the common cold. Horehound has been used traditionally as an expectorant herb, helping to loosen bronchial secretions and to eliminate mucous. It continues to find a place in cough lozenges and cold preparations. It is also used for indigestion, bloating and loss of appetite.

Also called White Horehound, this hardy herb was used in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome and was very popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. It has also been part of traditional Chinese, Australian Aboriginal, and Ayurvedic medicine.

The Horehound plant is coarse, strongly aromatic and has square stems. Its broad wrinkled leaves are woolly white below and pale green and downy above. The small whitish flowers are densely clustered and become burr-like seed pods containing tiny seeds.

Horehound is easy to grow, even in poor soils. It can be propagated from seed, cuttings, division and layering. Even moisture is important for sprouting the seed, which often germinates erratically. Horehound prefers full sun and a well-drained soil. Don’t plant it in a spot that stays wet throughout the winter and avoid planting it with herbs that need a lot of water. Space plants about a foot apart.

Once established, Horehound needs little supplemental irrigation. It is adapted to low fertility conditions and, much like other mints, can become invasive, spreading both by runners and self-seeding. It is easily grown in pots and the home gardener needs only two or three plants for personal use.

Horehound flowers are highly attractive to bees and other beneficial insects throughout the summer. At the same time, many pests, such as grasshoppers and aphids are deterred by the smell of the leaves and flowers. Deer and rabbits don’t eat it.

When using Horehound for tea, it is best to not use the bitter leaves fresh. The dried leaves take on a more delicious and smoother flavour. Simply pour boiling water over a teaspoon of the dried leaves, let it steep for five minutes and add raw honey for sweetening.