As a popular folk remedy for hundreds of years, horehound was planted throughout Europe and brought with settlers to North America, where it quickly became naturalized. It is a typical herb of cottage gardens, where it is harvested for use in tea and candy. The genus name 'marrubium' is believed to be derived from a Hebrew word meaning 'bitter juice'.
Botanical Family: Laminaceae
Common name: horehound
Synonyms: white horehound, hoarhound, marrubio blanco (Spanish)
The Plant: Horehound originated in Asia and southern Europe but is now naturalized throughout Europe. The one- to two-foot tall spreading perennial has woolly stems and wrinkled, oval-shaped leaves. The leaves are green on the upper side and covered with dense woolly hairs (tomentose) on the underside, giving them a white appearance. Small white flowers appear starting in the second year of growth and are located in densely woolly whorls on the stem. Horehound has a quite bitter, herbaceous flavor and is faintly aromatic.
An unrelated herb, black horehound (ballota nigra) has some similar uses, so the name white horehound, which horehound is sometimes called, is sometimes used in order to avoid confusion between the two herbs.
Constituents of Note: Up to 1% marrubin, a bitter lactone, flavonoids, tannins and trace amounts of an essential oil.
Quality: Due to the fine woolly hairs on horehound, the cut herb can have a fluffy or webby appearance. Horehound herb consists of the dried leaves and flowering tops, which include herbaceous (soft) stems. No woody stems or hard stem should be present.
Regulatory Status: GRAS (Title 21 182.10 and 182.2) and as a dietary supplement.
Did you know? An old fashioned sweet, horehound candy, was made using a strong horehound tea and sugar, cooked to form a hard candy lozenge. Horehound candy originated as a way to make the bitter horehound herb a more palatable medicine.
Directions: To make a tea, pour 1 cup boiling water over 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of horehound herb, cover and let steep for 5 minutes. If the tea is too bitter, honey can be added to sweeten.
Suggested Uses: A tea blend we like consists of 1/3 hyssop herb, 1/3 horehound herb and 1/3 peppermint leaf brewed into a tea and sweetened generously with honey. The three herbs work together synergistically and the honey and peppermint help balance the bitterness of the horehound and hyssop.
While most often used as a tea, horehound is a flavoring in syrups, bitters, candies, cough drops, lozenges and liqueurs.
Caution/Safety: The Botanical Safety Handbook* classifies horehound as:
Class:2b Herbs not to be used during pregnancy.
Per the German Commission E Monograph** for horehound, there are no known contraindications, side effects or drug interactions.
*Michael McGuffin, ed., American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, (New York: CRC Press, 1997)
**Mark Blumenthal, ed., The Complete German Commission E Monographs, (Austin TX: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998
Our organic horehound herb is cultivated in the United States and our non-organic horehound is cultivated in eastern Europe.