Horehound is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia but it can also be found growing in North America where it was intentionally introduced. The most common horehound variety is also sometimes called white horehound or houndsbane. There is another even more aromatic version referred to as black horehound. The name’s origin is in two old English words, har and hune. Har and hune refer to a plant with fine hairs. Horehound belongs to the mint family and has long been used for its medicinal value; in particular, it has been used throughout history as a cough medicine.
Horehound has been documented among medicines used by the Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Hebrews as well as by the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans. Horehound is believed to have been among the bitter herbs used in the Passover rituals of the Hebrews. Dioscorides the Greek physician recommended its use for respiratory illnesses and the Romans used it as a poison antidote. The first reported use of horehound in Ancient Rome was by Galen, the physician.
The 16th-century herbalist John Gerard was a proponent of using horehound as a cough remedy. In the 17th century, the botanist Nicholas Culpeper recommended horehound as a treatment for respiratory ailments such as asthma. He also considered it a good remedy for menstrual problems.
Horehound would reach the New World after being brought over from Europe by Spanish friars who planted it in mission gardens. It can now be found growing wild in the Southern US and Mexico.
Horehound flavor profile
Horehound’s flavor is similar to that of licorice and sassafras with a strong bitterness and a woodsy note.
Health benefits of horehound
Horehound has a long history of use as a medicine because of certain valuable compounds it contains. Its health-enhancing effects are due to:
- Vitamin C: Horehound contains vitamin C, which is likely responsible — at least in part — for its reputed efficacy as a cold medication.
- Marrubiin: The diterpene marrubiin is the compound in horehound that is responsible for its bitterness as well as for many of its health benefits.
- Ladanein: Like marrubin, ladanein is a diterpene with important health benefits.
The compounds above in addition to various others make horehound useful for treating and preventing problems like:
- Respiratory ailments: One of the oldest white horehound applications is as a cough remedy. It has been used to treat whooping cough as well as bronchitis. Horehound also acts as an expectorant. Black horehound is considered an inferior medicine when compared to the white variety but it can be used for this purpose as well.
- Fevers: Horehound is believed to be effective for treating fevers including typhoid fever.
- High blood pressure: Horehound acts as a vasodilator, which means that it causes blood vessels to widen thus improving blood flow.
- Digestive problems: White horehound is said to stimulate the flow of bile while black horehound can help to relieve vomiting.
- Cancer: The ladanein compound in horehound is thought to be effective for fighting cancer.
Warning: Horehound is one of those herbs that pregnant women should avoid. In addition, it should be avoided by children under the age of two.
Horehound is mainly a medicinal herb rather than a culinary one. The most common use of horehound is as a flavoring for cough drops and syrups. It is also a good tea herb and can be made into a tincture.