Thursday, March 24, 2011

Marrubium vulgare - White Horehound

Marrubium vulgare - White Horehound, also called Common Horehound, Woolly Horehound, Houndsbane, Soldier's Tea, and Hoarhound.  The common name comes from the Old English words har and hune, meaning downy plant. This name refers to the white hairs that give the herb its distinctive appearance.  It is also suggested that horehound takes its name from Horus, the Egyptian god of sky and light.  The Egyptian priests called this plant "Seed of Horus", or "Bull’s Blood" and "Eye of the Star." 

The botanical name Marrubium comes from Maria urbs, "an ancient town of Italy" or from the Hebrew marrob, "a bitter juice," and is one of the five sacred herbs used by the Jews for Passover Feasts.   Vulgare means "common".  

It is native to central and western Asia, southern Europe, and northern Africa, but has become naturalised worldwide and in some places it is considered a noxious weed.  It grows in disturbed land, fields, semi-dry areas, and along roadsides. 

Horehound was once regarded as an anti-magical herb, having the power to break magic spells and repel witches.  It was also used in exorcisms and as incense for protection.  The Romans praised the benefits of White Horehound and it was used extensively during the Middle Ages.  During the Australian goldrush of 1890, it was used by the Chinese as a tonic tea. 

This pungent member of the mint family has long been noted for its efficacy in lung troubles and coughs.  It was already known to have healing properties in Egypt and Greece some 2000 years ago.  It was used in ancient times for fevers, malaria, an antidote to snakebite, rabid dogs, poison, killing flies, tree cankerworms and in magic ritual.

Horehound was regularly used for problems of the respiratory system, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, liver, brain and nervous system conditions, disorders of the stomach, and for hepatitis.  It has also been used in restoring the normal balance of secretions by various organs and glands of the body, thypoid fever and in expelling worms. 

It was used as a tea, cough syrup and as a snuff to treat yellowness of the eye whites (related to liver disfunction).  It has been used in decoction form for sore throats and combined with fenugreek, licorice and thyme as a tea to loosen heavy mucous. 

CAUTION:  Horehound contains marrubin - a chemical compound used as an expectorant.  Large doses are purgative and can cause an irregular heartbeatStudies suggest that using white horehound over an extended period of time may lead to high blood pressure.  The juice can cause dermatitis.  This plant should only be taken as needed and not on a regular basis. White horehound is never to be used while pregnant or breastfeeding.  Horehound use may upset people with ulcers or stomach problems.

Although somewhat bitter and possessing a unique, pungent flavor, the fresh or dried leaves are edible and can be used as a seasoning or flavoring, made into a medicinal tea, candy and Horehound ale, an appetizing and healthful beverage.  It is also popularly used today in herbal cough drops.

Horehound is an important bee herb but is also used as a natural repellent against grasshoppers, making it an excellent companion plant for tomatoes.

White Horehound is a hardy plant, easily grown, and flourishes best in a dry, poor soil.  It can be propagated from seeds sown in spring, by division, and by cuttings in late summer.  It needs full sun and well-drained sandy soil.  If raised from seed, the seedlings should be planted out in the spring, in rows, with a space of about 9 inches or more between each plant.  No further culture will be needed than weeding.  It does not blossom until it is two years old.

The plant is bushy, producing numerous annual, quadrangular and branching stems, a foot or more in height.  It's tiny ¼ " white tubular flowers are found in dense clusters in the leaf axils (where the leaves join the stem) around the upper sections of the stems.  It blooms from April to September. 

The flower clusters dry to form brown burrs with small hooked spines.  Each burr contains four small spear-shaped seeds.  The oval shaped, downy leaves are gray -green on top and white below, with thick veins making it appear scalloped or wrinkled, and about 2" long and covered with woolly hairs.  The leaves are sharply aromatic when crushed.


Gerris2 said...

I enjoyed reading about this nice nectar plant in your blog. I have seeds of the species and plan to sow them this spring. I hope to provide nectar for clouds of parasites and predatory insects of the pest species in my garden.

Anonymous said...

this is a reportable weed