What Is It?
Health Benefits

Dosage Information

Guidelines for Use

General Interaction

Possible Side Effects



Evidence Based Rating Scale

What Is It?

Ancient Greeks reportedly relied on Marraubium vulgare, known as white horehound, to treat mad-dog bite, which explains the "hound" in this plant's name. But over time, it has been this Herb's power to control a cough that has made it so popular. Soothing teas, lozenges, and syrups concocted from its wooly leaves and white flowering tops make a cough more productive by stimulating phlegm (Mucus) output in the airways. In Europe, horehound is widely used in cough syrups and lozenges; however, in 1989 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned its use in over the counter cough medicines, citing insufficient evidence supporting its use as an expectorant. (1) Horehound can still be found in European produced cough remedies that are sold in the United States, for example, Ricola®.

Colds, bronchitis, and other minor respiratory problems, as well as digestive conditions, often respond to horehound treatment. In fact, the German Commission E has approved the use of horehound to treat bronchial problems like bronchitis and laryngitis, as well as to improve lack of appetite, dyspepsia (heartburn), gastrointestinal upset, flatulence, and bloating. (2)A member of the mint family, horehound has a somewhat bitter, apple-like flavor. Horehound is native to Europe but now grows in many parts of the world, including North America.

Health Benefits

Along with its use in cough remedies, in Europe horehound is also used to treat indigestion and discomfort caused by gas and bloating. In addition, some early evidence shows promising results for horehound in lowering blood sugar in patients with diabetes, and as a non-opioid pain reliever.

Specifically, horehound may help to:

Reduce cough and inflammation in bronchitis. Drinking tea made from leaves of the horehound plant may help to thin and bring up mucus secretions during an attack of acute bronchitis. The mucous thinning and emollient (lubricating) properties of horehound, which help to soothe irritation and inflammation, can be attributed to the marrubiin and volatile oil constituents of the plant. These constituents help to form a protective layer along the throat, digestive tract, and other areas, coating and soothing mucous membranes that have become inflamed, and suppressing cough receptors in the throat and larynx. (3-5) The German Commission E has approved horehound for this use. (2) However, evidence and support for this use is lacking in the United States. While the herb has a long history as an effective emollient and expectorant, no scientific studies have been conducted to evaluate efficacy in treating bronchitis. More research is needed to confirm or refute the effects of horehound in treating symptoms of bronchitis.

Ease indigestion. Horehound has been shown to stimulate the secretion of bile--a fluid that aids digestion that is secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder—and to stimulate areas of the central nervous system, that reduce spasms of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. (5) The herb has a long history of use as a digestive aid and has been approved by the German Commission E to treat heartburn, lack of appetite, gastrointestinal upset, flatulence, and bloating. (2) However, scientific evidence is lacking. Research is needed to confirm or refute the effects of horehound in treating indigestion.

Lower blood sugar in diabetes. Preliminary evidence has shown that horehound may lower blood sugar levels in diabetic animals. In a 1992 study, horehound significantly lowered blood sugar levels of diabetic rabbits compared to water as a control test. (6) The hypoglycemic effect of horehound was also demonstrated during several studies of diabetic rats. (7-9) In a pilot study done in Mexico, plasma glucose was lowered by 0.64%, cholesterol by 4.16%, and triglycerides by 5.78% in 21 diabetic patients who took a tea made with one gram of horehound three times a day for 21 days. (17)  More research is needed to confirm this hypoglycemic effect in humans.

Relieve sinusitis. The expectorant activity of horehound makes it useful in the treatment of sinusitis, a condition characterized by inflamed mucous membranes in the nasal passages. (10) In 2007, the FDA approved the use of horehound in products for sinusitis or for relief of nasal congestion associated with sinusitis. (11)

Lower blood pressure. Some preliminary studies in Europe have shown that the volatile oil of horehound may help to dilate blood vessels by relaxing the smooth muscle cells within the walls of the vessels. (12-15) This vasodilation effect may help in treating high blood pressure and arrhythmia. However, other research indicates that too much horehound may actually cause arrhythmias. (16) More research is needed.


  • Capsule
  • Dried herb
  • Extract
  • Leaves
  • Lozenge
  • Salve
  • Syrup
  • Tea
  • Tincture

Dosage Information

A typical dose is 1 to 2 g dried above ground parts or one cup of tea three times daily before meals (for indigestion) or during the day (as an expectorant). A typical dose of pressed juice is 30 to 60 ml (1 to 2 oz.) daily. For liquid extract, 1 to 3 ml, 1:1 in 25% ethanol, has been used three times daily, and 1 to 2 ml of the tincture, 1:10 in 45%alcohol, has been used three times daily.

To make tea, steep 1 to 2 g dried above ground parts in 150 mL (5 oz.) boiling water 5 to 10 minutes, and strain.

Up to 4.5 g dried above ground parts or 2 to 6 Tbsp of pressed juice (or equivalent) can be used daily.

For bronchitis: One cup of tea three times daily throughout the day. Lozenges dissolved in the mouth as needed, according to package directions.

For indigestion: 4.5 g daily of cut herb, or 2 to 6 Tbsp fresh plant juice, or 1 to 2 g dried herb or infusion three times daily.

For diabetes: No typical dose has been established.

For sinusitis: One cup of tea three times daily throughout the day.

For blood pressure: No typical dose has been established.

Guidelines for Use

For gastrointestinal symptoms, drink the tea before meals to stimulate bile secretion. For congestion, drink the tea throughout the day to promote expectorant effects.

General Interaction

Horehound may dangerously increase the blood sugar-lowering effects of drugs designed to lower blood glucose, such as insulin and oral anti-diabetic agents. Avoid combining horehound with these medicines.

There are no other known drug or nutrient interactions associated with horehound.

Possible Side Effects 

  • Large amounts of white horehound can cause a laxative effect and lead to loose stools.

  • If used topically, the plant juice can irritate the skin and cause dermatitis. 


Horehound has been safely used for centuries. But avoid taking more that commonly recommended. One of the herb's active ingredients, a volatile oil called marrubiin, could potentially cause heart irregularities in large doses.

Limited research in animals indicates that substances in horehound stimulate the uterus. To be safe, pregnant women should avoid the herb.

White horehound should not be confused with the Mediterranean plant, black horehound (Ballota nigra), or water horehound (Lycopus americanus), which are also members of the mint family but are from a different species and have an unpleasant taste and odor.


1. "F.D.A. Cough Medicine Guidelines." The New York Times on the Web. Feb 28, 1989. Accessed September 8, 2011.
2. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998.
3. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
4. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 1st ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, Inc., 1998.
5. Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler's Honest Herbal, 4th ed., Binghamton, NY: Haworth Herbal Press, 1999.
6. Román Ramos R, Alarcón-Aguilar F, Lara-Lemus A, Flores-Saenz JL. Hypoglycemic effects of plants used in Mexico as antidiabetics. Arch Med Res. 1992 Spring;23(1):59-64.
7. Novaes AP, Rossi C, Poffo C, et al. Preliminary evaluation of the hypoglycemic effect of some Brazilian medicinal plants. Therapie. 2001 Jul-Aug;56(4):427-30.
8. Nusier MK, Bataineh HN, Bataineh ZM, Daradka HM. Effects of Ballota nigra on blood biochemical parameters and insulin in albino rats. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2007 Aug;28(4):473-6.
9. Nusier MK, Bataineh HN, Bataineh ZM, Daradka HM. Effects of Ballota nigra on glucose and insulin in alloxan-diabetic albino rats. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2007 Aug;28(4):470-2.
10. Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Tyler's Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. New York, NY: The Haworth Herbal Press, 1999.
11. FDA Code of Federal Regulations: Requirements for specific new drugs or devices. April 1, 2011. Accessed September 11, 2011.
12. El Bardai S, Lyoussi B, Wibo M, et al. Pharmacological evidence of hypotensive activity of Marrubium vulgare and Foeniculum vulgare in spontaneously hypertensive rat. Clin Exp Hypertens . 2001 May;23(4):329-43.
13. El Bardai S, Morel N, Wibo M, et al. The vasorelaxant activity of marrubenol and marrubiin from Marrubium vulgare. Planta Med. 2003 Jan;69(1):75-7.
14. El Bardai S, Hamaidea MC, Lyoussib B, et al. Marrubenol interacts with the phenylalkylamine binding site of the L-type calcium channel. Eur J Pharmacol. 25 May 2004;492(2-3):269-272.
15. El Bardai S, Lyoussi B, Wibo M, Morel N. Comparative study of the antihypertensive activity of Marrubium vulgare and of the dihydropyridine calcium antagonist amliodipine in spontaneously hypertensive rat. Clin Exp Hypertens. 2004 Aug;26(6):465-74.
16. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Philpson JD. Herbal Medicine: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. London, UK: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.
17. Herrera-Arellano A, Aguilar-Santamaria L, Garcia-Hernandez B, Nicasio-Torres P, Tortoriello J. Clinical trial of Cecropia obtusifolia and Marrubium vulgare leaf extracts on blood glucose and serum lipids in type 2 diabetics. Phytomed. November 2004; 11(7-8):561–566.

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies and what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice into a visual and easy to interpret format. This tool is meant to simplify the information on supplements and therapies that demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions.








Long history of use by alternative practitioners, and approval by The German Commission E for this use. Scientific evidence is lacking. Research is needed. (1-4)


Preliminary evidence in animals indicates potential hypoglycemic effect. Potential interaction with other hypoglycemic agents. Use with clinician guidance. (6-9)


High blood pressure  
Preliminary animal studies indicate a potential vasodilation effect. More research is needed. (12-15)

Acid-Related Stomach Disorders: Ulcers,GERD  

Long history of use and approval by The German Commission E for this use. Preliminary in vitro evidence also indicates potential efficacy. More research is needed. (2, 5)


Approved by the FDA for this use. (10, 11)

Date Published: 04/18/2005
Previous  |  Next
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top