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Horehound (Marrubium vulgare [Latin]), also called white horehound and marrubium, has been used to treat cold and flu symptoms for thousands of years. It helps loosen phlegm and quiets coughs. In Europe, horehound is also used to treat indigestion and discomfort caused by gas and bloating.

In 1989 the Food and Drug Administration ordered a ban on the use of horehound in cough remedies, claiming it was ineffective. Instead the FDA recommended the use of an expectorant called guaifenesin, which some scientists think believe to be ineffective. Horehound is still sold in Europe in cough syrup and lozenges, and you can still get it in the United States as well—so long as it isn’t marketed as a cough remedy.

Today most herbalists still recommend horehound for relief of minor respiratory symptoms that result form bronchitis, colds, flu, and sinusitis.

The German Commission E, an expert panel that evaluates the safety and efficacy of herbs, approves the use of horehound for gastrointestinal upset, flatulence, and bloating. Horehound is also thought to aid digestion by helping to regulate blood sugar levels after meals.

Some European studies indicate that horehound may help dilate blood vessels, which could lead to its use as a treatment for high blood pressure and arrhythmia. However, research in this area is preliminary, and of course anyone with high blood pressure or any form of heart disease should be under a doctor’s care.

Horehound is available in many commercial preparations, including cough syrup, lozenges, and teas. If you’re in the United States, don’t expect to find these products with the cough suppressants in the drugstore, though, although horehound is still included in some products used to treat sore throats.

You can also buy dried horehound leaves bulk in some health food stores to make homemade teas or tinctures. One teaspoon of dried leaves to 1 cup of hot water makes a (somewhat bitter) tea. Drink it about one-half hour before eating if you are using it as a digestive aid. Otherwise, 3 cups of tea each day is the usual dosage.

Horehound is thought to help treat congestion and indigestion by stimulating the central nervous system to secrete fluids and relax the smooth muscles in the body. This action may be helpful to women experiencing menstrual cramps; however, pregnant women should not take this herb. Large amounts of horehound have been shown to cause irregular heartbeat—anyone with cardiovascular disease should avoid this herb until more is known about its effect on the heart.

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