Horehound (white And Black)

The herb Horehound occurs of two sorts, white and black, in our

hedge-rows, and on the sides of banks, each getting its generic

name, which was originally Harehune, from hara, hoary, and

hune, honey; or, possibly, the name Horehound may be a

corruption of the Latin Urinaria, since the herb has been found

efficacious in cases of strangury, or difficult making of water.

The White Horehound (Marrubium) is a
ommon square-stemmed

herb of the Labiate order, growing in waste places, and of

popular use for coughs and colds, whether in a medicinal form, or as

a candied sweetmeat. Its botanical title is of Hebrew derivation,

from marrob, a bitter juice. The plant is distinguished by the

white woolly down on its stems, by its wrinkled leaves, and small

white flowers.

It has a musky odour, and a bitter taste, being a much esteemed

Herbal Simple, but very often spuriously imitated. It affords

chemically a fragrant volatile oil, a bitter extractive marrubin,

and gallic acid.

As a homely remedy it is especially given for coughs accompanied

with abundant thick expectoration, and for chronic asthma. In

Norfolk scarcely a cottage garden can be found without its

Horehound corner; and Horehound beer is much drunk there by the

natives. Horehound tea may be made by pouring boiling water on

the fresh leaves, an ounce to a pint, and sweetening this with honey:

then a wineglassful should be taken three or four times in the day.

Or from two to three teaspoonfuls of the expressed juice of the herb

may be given for a dose.

Candied Horehound is best made from the fresh plant by boiling it

down until the juice is extracted, [268] and then adding sugar before

boiling this again until it has become thick enough of consistence to

pour into a paper case, and to be cut into squares when cool. Gerard

said: Syrup made from the greene fresh leaves and sugar is a most

singular remedy against the cough and wheezing of the lungs. It

doth wonderfully, and above credit, ease such as have been long

sicke of any consumption of the lungs; as hath been often proved by

the learned physicians of our London College.

When given in full doses, an infusion of the herb is laxative. If the

plant be put in new milk and set in a place pestered with flies, it

will speedily kill them all. And according to Columella, the Horehound

is a serviceable remedy against the Cankerworm in trees: Profuit et

plantis latices infundere amaros marrubii.

The Marrubium was called by the Egyptian Priests the Seed of

Horus or the Bull's Blood and the Eye of the Star. It was a

principal remedy in the Negro Caesar's Antidote for vegetable


The Black Horehound (Ballota nigra), so called from its dark

purple-coloured flowers, is likewise of common growth about our

roadsides and waste places. Its botanical title comes from the Greek

ballo, to reject, because of its disagreeable odour, particularly

when burnt. The herb is sometimes known as Madwort, being

supposed to act as an antidote to the bite of a mad dog. In Beaumont

and Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess, we read of:--

Black Horehound, good

For Sheep, or Shepherd bitten by a wood-dog's venomed tooth.

If its leaves are applied externally as a poultice, they will relieve

the pain of gout, and will mollify angry [269] boils. In Gotha the

plant is valued for curing chronic skin diseases, particularly of a

fungoid character, such as ringworm; also for diseases of cattle.

This, says Meyrick is one of those neglected English herbs which are

possessed of great virtues, though they are but little known, and still

less regarded. It is superior to most things as a remedy in hysteria,

and for low spirits. Drayton said (Polybion, 1613):--

For comforting the spleen and liver--get for juice,

Pale Horehound.

The Water Horehound (Lycopus), or Gipsy wort, which grows

frequently in our damp meadows and on the sides of streams, yields

a black dye used for wool, or silk, and with which gipsies stain their

skins, as well as with Walnut juice. This is called Gipsy Wort,

says Lyte, because the rogues and runagates, which name

themselves Egyptians, do colour themselves black with this herbe.

Each of the Horehounds is a labiate plant; and this, the water

variety, bears flesh coloured flowers, whilst containing a volatile

oil, a resin, a bitter principle, and tannin. Its medicinal action is

astringent, with a reduced frequency of the pulse, and some gentle

sedative effects, so that any tendency to coughing, etc., will be

allayed. Half-an-ounce of the plant to a pint of boiling water will

make the infusion.