Our ancestors used herbs to cure many ailments. More and more, modern science is validating ancient knowledge. White horehound, which had many medicinal uses in the past and remains popular as cough drops, has been found to be effective at clearing out lungs and stopping coughs.
There are three types of horehound: Water Horehound which is related to the bugleweed, Black (Stinking) Horehound and White Horehound, both horehounds and both in the mint family. Black horehound not only is not medicinal, it is toxic in large doses and should be avoided.
White horehound is native to all of Europe, Asia and the northern part of Africa. It was transported to North America by the European colonists who brought it over with other medicinal herbs for their gardens. It has now naturalized throughout North America. It is perennial in zones 3 through 10. Like mint, its stems do not branch. Rather, the wrinkled leaves, covered with white hairs giving it its name, grow around the stem. It grows 18 to 24 inches tall. White horehound requires full sun and prefers poor, dry, sandy soils. It does well in a xeriscape. Bloom time is from June to September.
Propagation is by seed, cuttings or division. Division should be done in the spring and cuttings taken in the late summer. Growing from seed is easy. The seed can be direct sown in your garden in either the spring or the fall (for germination the following spring). If you want to start your seeds indoors, you get better germination if you cold stratify your seeds. To cold stratify, sow your seeds and then place them in your refrigerator for about a month. Keep them moist. Don’t let them dry out. You can plant your seedlings in your garden after your last frost.
When not helped along by gardeners, white horehound uses animals to disperse its seeds. Each seed has a small “hook” on it which snags the fur of passing animals, hitching a ride to a new location. The seeds get “planted” when the animal brushes against something or scratches itself, loosening the seeds from its fur.
White horehound has a bitter smell when fresh. The odor diminishes as it dries but the taste remains bitter. White horehound is often mistakenly identified as one of the bitter herbs eaten at Passover. Modern research has revealed that it is not one of the bitter herbs referenced in the Bible. To make white horehound palatable for use as a remedy, add sugar or honey to it. The familiar cough drops use brown sugar as a sweetener.
So the next time you are stuffy and coughing, grab some horehound cough drops for some old-fashioned relief.