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Horehound – a mint family herbal remedy for great lung health

White Horehound – Marrubium vulgare
White Horehound – Marrubium vulgare growing wild

It is always interesting to me to dive into one plant.  One I have used especially.  Always learning new things from these research days.  First impressions are not always correct.  White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare, is a plant of the Lamiacea family.   This family is massive.  Diverse and we know it well.  It is our family of mints.  They are generally cooling, calming, and stimulating all at the same time.  Some are safe to use during pregnancy, and some are not.  White Horehound is one of those mints that is not.  

My study of plant medicine is ever evolving, changing.  This consistent chaotic experience is that of nature.  The forest floor houses such a diverse garden.  It seems that there is no rhyme or reason to the diversity.  This seems to match the path of an herbalist so well.  I love to know the plants that have contraindications.  These aspects of the plants must be known, memorized, and become first instinct.  Contraindications are instances where a plant is not recommended to be used.  

Marrubium vulgare – White Horehound of the Lamiacea Family

The Lamiacea family is one that we all know well, though knowing it well becomes a challenge of an herbalist.  The mints are varied, and diverse.  Peppermint and spearmint.  Penny royal and Horehound.  All belong to the same group.  Most of these herbs can be found at all elevations around the West.  I find them at 4,500 feet where  I live, and at 10,000 feet where I hike and harvest herbs.  Horse mint is the most common as it follows the horse trails along with alfalfa.  When growing wild, it takes over areas.  Becomes a wild herb of the forest and is easily identified with it’s purplish flower heads.  

Adorable and Classic Lamiacea Flower – Marrubium vulgare

Scents of the Mints

Mints are most easily identified by their stem.  When you hold it in your finger tips and roll it.  You can feel the square stem.  All mints have this and if you can feel the edges of a plant that has alternating leaves in groups of 4 or 6.  Little puffs of flowers at each base of those leaves that are adorable miniature snapdragon looking guys.  You have a mint.  The foliage is strong smelling, but usually smells differently when you study the smell.  Crush some peppermint between your fingers and you will feel its cooling, sweet volatile oils.  Crush Horehound next, and something completely different will come through your palate.

Horehound has a strong musky smell.  You realize quickly that this one has strong and specific properties to give it the smell of the forest floor.  It has a slight cool scent, similar to other mints.  But truly it is bitter instead of sweet.  Musky instead of pungent.  It doesn’t make you want to brew a whole pot of tea, or tincture it immediately.  But if you do the benefits of this lovely mint are plentiful.  

Square Soft and White

Wild White Horehound – Marrubium vulgare – Does not have STRONG white border around the foliage

It is known as White Horehound.  This is another aspect that sets it apart from a general mint like Horse mint or Peppermint.  Because each plant is made differently.  There are little clues that set it completely apart of it’s cousins.  White Horehound has the square stem but it is covered in white fuzz.  The edges of the leaves are also usually white.  Though mostly the garden varieties are ones that show this the most.  In the wild, where the medicine is the strongest, horehound can just barely be tinted white along the edges of it’s foliage.   But the stem will always be your defining characteristic of what you see on the forest floor. 

Garden Variety of White Horehound HAS strong white Border on foliage

History of Horehound

The Lamiacea family is another one who has a strong, rich history.  Mints are found throughout the centuries being used as far back as the ancient Greeks.  Even Egyptian priests had nicknames for Horehound specifically.  Because Horehound grows at all elevations and is very drought tolerant.  It is found throughout the world.  In Egypt, it was known by Priests as ‘Seed of Horns”, “Bulls Blood”, and “Eye of the Star”.  The Greek Physician Dioscorides noted recommending the herb for many of what we use it for today.  Tuberculosis, asthma and coughs.  Wheezing, bronchitis, bronchiectasis, non productive coughs and whooping cough.  

Marrubium was thought to be derived from the name Maraurbs, an ancient town of Italy.  Another thought to it’s origin is a Hebrew word; marrob meaning ‘a bitter juice’.  Quite fitting as White Horehound is one of the more bitter Lamiaceas in the forest.   All of our historic resources are ones that can indeed be a guess.  We are translating from ancient text which doesn’t always make sense in modern times.  Wondering what they meant.  I find all of this fascinating as when looking at the herbs of medicine.  We can point to something tangible and realize… science is an amazing modern gift, but the plants were able to speak in other ways before we had it. 

Recommended Uses and Contraindications of White Horehound

As all mints are.  White Horehound is a diverse plant.  Generally speaking, the mints are plants that open stagnant pathways of energy within the body.  Because of this, they can warm and cool.  Relax or stimulate.  Each of these aspects of the plant is contained in one but depends on the modality of medicine.  Tea or tincture.  Cold or hot infusions.  External application or internal use.  Each use produces a different result, temperature, menstrum, or condition.  All can be swayed to result differently, from the same group of constituents.  

Modern use of White Horehound is quite specific to the lungs, but it is also a strong bitter.  Because it is a mint, and stimulates the tissues it affects, this defines Horehound as a Bitter Expectorant.  Marrubiin is the chemical constituent of Horehound thought to be responsible for both Bitter and Expectorant actions of the plant.    It is a perfect plant to use after the application of Mullein which will break up bacterial infections of the lungs. 

After Mullein works it’s magic, White Horehound comes in to relieve the Lungs, Bronchials, and sometimes the Throat of congestive mucous.  Horehound also encourages the secretion of regular mucous in the mucous membranes.  When the body is hydrating and lubricating itself, unwelcome bacterial phlegm will be expelled more easily.

Other Uses for White Horehound

Other uses of the plant include a bitter for assisting in digestion.  Correcting irregular heart beats, soothing asthmatic conditions, wheezing, and whooping cough.  It is a gentle purgative in large doses and when added to a salve Horehound acts as a vermifuge for wounds.  It makes an excellent addition to cough syrups and can be substituted for Hops in your home made brews.  Be sure the plant material you are using for medicinal purposes is wild harvested.  This is where you will have the most active, and abundant chemical constituents.  Because Horehound grows prolifically, and is drought resistant… it is considered a very healthy wild population.  

Contraindications of White Horehound

This is where mints get tricky.  It is also why I choose to focus on these groups of plants.  Like Penny Royal, another prolific and widely used Lamiacea member.  Horehound is deemed to be unsafe to use during pregnancy.  It is one that can be stimulating to the uterus and cause early contractions.  It is unclear as to whether or not Horehound was used as an abortifacient, but because the chemical makeup of the plant is so close to Penny Royal.  Which was documented as being used for relieving unwanted pregnancies.  Horehound makes the list to NOT be used, under any circumstances during every stage of a pregnancy.