Horehound: My Old Friend

So I got really sick recently. It's a funny story.

 I have such a thing for pines. Here is a Jack Pine in Alberta, Canada.....a botanical garden I think. And before I got sick. 

I have such a thing for pines. Here is a Jack Pine in Alberta, Canada.....a botanical garden I think. And before I got sick. 

I like to do that stoic thing when I get sick. You know, cause I'm all into herbs and stuff, I wanna use every chance I get to experiment on myself. It started with a swollen tonsil. And then the other inflated. And oh, my throat was on fire! I thought, "wow, I haven't had tonsilitis in years!" I used to get it all the time when I was little. 

On maybe the second night of having terrible throat pains, the fevers set in. Now, I had just returned from the Alberta Herb Gathering where I had a chance to take some great classes and visit a beloved friend who has moved to Canada. One of those classes was on diaphoretics: herbs that are traditionally called upon in times of fevers, taught by jim mcdonald. He emphasized in his class the overabundance of fear when approaching fevers: they are really a very necessary and vital part of our healing system. They are to be worked with, enabled, supported. Excited to put to work what I learned in his class, I rode my fevers through the night and tried to watch for any signs that I needed help releasing heat from my core or helping to relax tension.  

But who am I kidding, my temp rose to 104 degrees and actually the part of me that kept saying: "hey, girl, you could use some elder flower tea right now," was way deep in my head. What it really looked like was me rolling around my bed and huffing and puffing every 3 and a half minutes wishing a magical herb fairy would appear to make me tea. I was surely not able to get up and concentrate on making some tea for myself. This pattern continued for a few days. During the day I was able to get some herbs in me, but as night descended, and the fevers rose, so did my discomfort and impatience. I realized it might be strep throat I was dealing with. Ugh. 

On the third night of fevers, the infection had moved down into the upper portion of my lungs as well as into my sinuses. Breathing became difficult and stressful. I developed a nasty, painful, spasmotic cough that was mostly dry. I was so annoyed. Just as I would find myself starting to drift to sleep the need to cough would arise and oh, my abs and my back, they were so painful. Ugh. And in a feverish state, in the middle of the night, searching my brain for herbs that can help was nearly impossible. All I kept thinking about was a popsicle. A big, cold grape popsicle. So I got up to go see what was in my freezer I could suck on.....

And i found my dear friend horehound!

Last year, about this time I suspect (because I did not label the jar-yikes) I made a syrup, recipe below, for a neighbor whose bronchitis was so forceful and painful that her coughing made me hurt just listening. Oh, I could hear her all night! I felt terrible for her. I had harvested some Horehound, Marrubium vulgare, on a walk and knew it could be an ally to help give her some rest. I gave her the syrup and within about 48 hours her cough reduced to an occasional hack (her cigarette use remained).

Sitting in the back of my freezer was a lonely little jar of this syrup! Ohhhhh, I squealed for delight! My friend, my friend horehound, already prepared and able to help me in my time of need! What a sight I was, hair looking like bozo the clown, in my underwear, feverishly talking to a jar of syrup at 3 in the morning. I promptly took a large spoonful. Sweet + bitter, cooling and refreshing.

R E L I E F set in quickly. 

She is a plant of the colonizers, native to Europe and Western Asia, that has naturalized itself throughout much of the United States. She is a member of the Mint family (Lamaciae), having the characteristic square stems and opposite growing, crinkly, and downy green to whitish leaves. It is the areal parts, primarily the leaves, that are collected for use in herbal preparations. I love this little beast. She is traditionally considered to be governed by the Air element, the sign of Gemini and the planets Mercury and Mars. Horehound can be used magically to assist one to banish negative energies and to increase focus and concentration while spell-working or journies through the spirit realm. For this, I find a few fresh or dried leaves held in the palms (as opposed on the altar) during your journey to be very effective. During a time of sickness and fevers, I think it can protect our travel through the spiritual realms. I love this little creature. 

she kicks ass at helping a spasmotic, cranky cough!

 White Horehound,  Marrubium vulgare

White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare

Marrubium is expectorant, antispasmotic, bitter, analgesic and vulnerary. She is a vasodialator: relaxing and opening vascular passageways, increasing blood flow to our peripheries. Her antispasmotic superpowers have a particular affinity for the lungs and you can often find quick release of tension and spasms within a couple minutes (from my experience). It has a characteristic complexity typical to the mint family: being both stimulating and relaxing.  Especially indicated in bronchitis or coughs which are dry as she helps with the mucous production needed to lubricate and release stuck goop in the lungs. The smooth muscle tissue gets relaxed and breath deepens. She helps decrease the painfulness of the coughs as they come, as well. 

And oh, she's a bitter, bitter friend. Bitter in all the good ways. She can help with the stimulation of bile production and increasing appetite as a secondary action when being taking during times of sickness when the appetite might naturally be absent but the need to eat something, even soup, is present. Because she is so bitter, she is most often taken as a syrup through which, even with a dump truck load of honey, the bitterness will peep through. I don't mind that, I like tasting her, but for kids and partners and grumpy folks, it can be a different experience. It's ok, even if they complain, the quick acting Horehound will woo them over with her soothing ability on the cough reflex. What's really lovely is that she is a very safe herb to take for kids and adults alike, having little interactions with other medications having been reported or known thus far. 

I have primarily worked with her as a syrup. She can be tinctured and then taken as needed for coughs. I think next spring I will harvest some leaves again and make enough to tincture so that I can make a comparison of the two on quickness of action, amount needed, etc. I have noticed that the effects from the syrup can often lessen after about an hour and so taking a spoonful every hour or two while awake can be important as opposed to waiting until the coughs are really bad and then then taking a ton out of necessity ☺ I was able to do that the following day after I found the syrup in my freezer and the night time coughs were much less severe. 

How about a syrup recipe? 

Use the above ground parts of Horehound. Can be gathered anytime of year that the leaves are in healthy condition. Especially during Spring. I have read that her phyto-chemicals come into maturity as the leaves dry (pre-marrubiin becomes marrubiin), so I would encourage drying the leaves prior to making a syrup unless it is needed that same day of harvest. I have made my syrups from fresh leaves and still found them to be active and potent. Though I have not made a syrup of fresh and dried from the same plant and don a side to side comparison. That's on the to-do list for next spring when I harvest again. So I'll keep you posted ☺

  • Seperate the leaves from the stems until you have approximately half a cup of leaves if fresh or 1/4 cup if using dried leaves (which can be obtained through Mountain Rose Herbs)

  • Add 2 cups of water, preferably distilled or filtered water, to a sauce pan

  • Add leaves

  • Optional: I added other herbs too: 1 Tablespoon each of Ginger (fresh or dried) and Cinnamon, as well as a small handful of Astragalus slices for added flavor and immune support. Feel free to experiment with flavors you enjoy or herbs you think will compliment your syrup, including fruits!

  • Gently simmer (not boil) the herbs until you have about half the original liquid left (about a cup and a half)

  • Strain your herbs into a large measuring cup or into a bowl, you will want to measure the liquid you have left (its ok if it isn't exactly half

  • Add equal parts sugar or honey to both sweeten and act as a preservative for the syrup ( I add a bit more the equal parts in this syrup for extra preservation and also cause its bitter!) You do want a one to one ratio of liquid to sweetener for best preservation (so if you had 1 cup liquid, you would add 1 cups of sweetener, I find honey to be the best

  • Stir until dissolved, you might toss back into the sauce pan on a low heat to completely dissolve the sugar

  • Taste it! 

  • Label it! Store in glass jars with lids in the fridge and/or freezer. It should keep for at least a moth in the fridge and indefinitely in the freezer until you or your neighbor hacking up a lung and keeping you up at night needs it

My favorite way to take this during the daytime was to add 1 Tbsp. of the syrup to 1 Tbsp. of raw apple cider vinegar in some mineral water and sip often throughout the day. Helped digestion, cleansing, decreased cough spasms and increase productivity of the cough. ☺

So back to the fever bit......

Here is a summary of some of the wisdom shared by jim mcdonald regarding herbal treatment of fevers in the class to share with you!

  • First, the biggest misconception about treating illness is that a fever results from the illness and should be suppressed
    • Actually, fevers are a very necessary and healthy internal regulation of our body, they are protective and designed to kill the specific pathogens which have taken residence in our bodies~they are a healthy and natural response that can allow the body to increase long term immunity
    • Looking at the number on the thermometer does not give true indication to a person's level of illness or danger, the whole person and their condition must be taken into consideration (so someone could have a 100 degree fever and be in more danger than someone with 102 degree fever, it isn't a linear indicator of danger)
    • "Fever Phobia" is a real thing and indicates the attitudes that fevers in them selves are dangerous and need to be supporessed through medication or herbs. Here are a few resources for further understanding:
  • Focus on the greater dangers that can occur during a fever
    • Dehydration: absolutely essential to encourage ongoing hydration
      • Give teas (preferably HOT as hot water naturally helps heat move through the body), water, etc.
    • Secondary Infections while the immune system is taxed
  • Provide herbal support as the individual's needs appear:
    • is the heat trapped in the core and unable to escape? Try warming and stimulating herbs such as cinnamon, ginger and if they are not easily over dried or stimulated, a touch of cayenne 
    • Is there tension in the body, seen as someone in fetal position, muscles tense, a refusal to top working or to relax and be sick? Try herbs that relax the tension in the body and hold onto the heat: elder flower, mints, boneset, blue vervain, catnip, monarda
  • When to seek help? As soon as you feel the illness cannot be managed on your own. 
  • Having preblended teas on hand or knowing a local herbalist you can grab some teas from can be incredibly helpful as (like I recently discovered) trying to think, blend, make tea, etc can all be too much when you or someone you are caring for is sick!
    • One of jim's shared tea blends, Gypsy Tea Blend: 
      • 1 Part Yarrow Leaf + Flower
      • 1 Part mint of choice (typically peppermint, but spearmint, monardas, orange or chocolate mints can be substituted)
      • 1 Part Elder Flower
      • Always serve tea HOT while sick to increase actions of the herbs and use water's natural moving abilities

let's hope for minimal sickness this season and if some germs take hold, have tea on hand, syrups in the freezer or know who to call to get some so you can focus on riding the tides of healing! ♥


A Few References:

A study of the Hypotensive properties of Horehound.         

A page to help ID/key Horehound

Some research info on Horehound as anti-diabetic & other lesser known applications of Horehound 

Visit jim mcDonald's very thorough page on fevers here