A native of Europe, North Africa and Asia, horehound has been used since the early Egyptians first brewed it as a cough medicine known as the “seed of Horus,” the Egyptian god of sky and light. “Hore” in the herb’s common name is thought to be derived from the Old English meaning white or frosty in reference to the plants downy covering, which is why it is also known as white horehound or wooly horehound. “Hound” may refer to its use by ancient Greeks as an antidote to bites from mad dogs! Horehounds botanical name, Marrubium is derived from the Hebrew marroh meaning bitter and it may have been one of the bitter Passover herbs.
A small rounded 2’ shrub in the mint family, horehound has the typical square stems, however they are wooly. The leaves are a grey-green, wrinkled and downy but smooth on top and fuzzier underneath with a pronounced musky smell which is lost when dried. It produces small white flowers the second season in dense whorls that circle the stem and attract beneficial wasps and flies to the garden as well as being a favorite of bees. The fruit is comprised of a nutlet containing seeds which are minutely hooked enabling them to be carried to new sites on the fur of animals and it self-seeds readily and rapidly. Horehound is easily grown and not picky about soil, likes full sun and is drought tolerant making it a perfect xerscape plant. Plants can be propagated by seeds sown in the spring after the last frost, divisions done in early spring or cuttings taken in late summer. Seeds started indoors must be stratified or refrigerated after planting for a month or two to improve germination. Some gardeners prefer the more ornamental silver horehound (M. incanum) or Spanish horehound (M. supinum) which is more compact. Once established keep horehound well pruned after it flowers to produce a second crop of leaves, keep up its appearance and keep down its spreading habit. Since it is the leaves which are mainly used, it can be harvested the first year.
Horehound’s leaves have a distinctively bitter taste although they may be used sparingly as a seasoning for salads, soup, fish and chicken. It is often made into a syrup or candy in order to disguise the bitterness. Used as a substitute for hops in beer, its extracts are also used to flavor liqueurs, nonalcoholic beverages and cough syrups. A mild pleasantly flavored tea may also be made from the fresh leaves.
Horehound is deer proof and teams well with contrasting foliage
such as butterfly weed, peonies and poppies
A great companion plant for tomatoes and peppers
causing a longer crop period and also a heavier crop
Since June is National Candy Month here is a recipe from Herbal Treasures by Phyllis V. Shaudys for horehound candy:
Old-Time Horehound Candy
2 cups fresh horehound, leaves, stems and flowers (or 1 cup dried)
2 1/2 quarts water
3 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. butter
1 tsp. lemon juice (or 1 sprig lemon balm)
In large saucepan, cover horehound with water. Bring to boil, simmer 10 minutes. Strain thru cheesecloth and allow tea to settle. Ladle 2 cups horehound tea into large kettle. Add brown sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar. Boil, stirring often, until mixture reaches 240 F. Add butter. Continue to boil until candy reaches 300F (hard crack). Remove from heat, add lemon juice. Pour at once into buttered 8" square pan. As candy cools, score into squares. Remove from pan as soon as it is cool. Store in aluminum foil or in zip-lock plastic bags.
"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.
I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.”