Black Horehound

Ballota nigra

Herbs gallery - Black Horehound

Common names

  • Black Horehound
  • Black Stinking Horehound
  • Fetid Horehound
  • Stinking Roger

Black horehound (botanical name Ballota nigra) belongs to the family Lamiaceae. This perennial plant is indigenous to the Mediterranean region as well as central Asia and usually grows up to a height of three feet. This herb can be found growing all over Europe and the eastern regions of the United States. The flowering season of black horehound lasts from May to August.

This herb has a wood-like and fibroid root. The leaves of black horehound appear on the stem in pairs, each pair arranged perpendicularly to the preceding pair. The pale green leaves are stalked and have coarsely serrated margins. The blooms of this plant appear in crowded or compact whorls at the leaf axils and they have a reddish-purple hue. The plants are self-sowing.

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Black horehound is an extremely resilient herb. The flowers of this plant are hermaphrodite (having male as well as female organs). They are mainly pollinated by bees. Black horehound plants thrive well in moist, nutritionally poor and well-drained soil. The plants possess the aptitude to grow well in sunlight as well as shade.

The generic name of the plant Ballota has been derived from geek ballo, which denotes getting rid of or throwing away. The name seems to be apt for the herb, as it emits a very potently disagreeable smell - repulsing people and animals. The specific name 'nigra' has been derived from the Latin term 'nigrais', meaning "black". It is important to note that you should not confuse this plant with another species called white horehound, whose actions are dissimilar.

Precisely speaking, the black horehound is a perennial plant having a potently offensive smell. The whole plant has an unpleasant odour and its leaves release a horrible smell when they are bruised or crushed. The odour is similar to that of stale sweat.

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Parts used

Flowering tops and dried leaves.

Uses

Black horehound has a number of therapeutic uses. It is an effective herbal remedy for curing vomiting and nausea, especially when they are attributed to the nervous system and not the stomach. This herb can also be used to treat motion sickness or vomiting and nausea caused by nervousness. Black horehound is also useful for treating various menstrual disorders. This herb possesses gentle expectorant properties, and is also believed to be mildly antispasmodic and sedative. Sometimes, herbal medicine practitioners recommend people with arthritis and gout to take black horehound orally. In ancient times, people believed that this herb was also useful in treating rabies. People bitten by mad dogs were advised to take this herb orally along with salt to cure them of the effects of the canine's venom.

For several centuries now, black horehound has been used as an herbal remedy for various health problems. However, contemporary herbalists rarely use this herb because of its horrible flavour and smell. Nevertheless, this herb has a wide variety of therapeutic properties, and is particularly effective as an antiemetic (a medicine that suppresses vomiting and nausea). There was a time when black horehound was widely used to treat menopause, convulsions, low spirits and problems related to the respiratory system. Contemporary practitioners of herbal medicine, however, differ on whether the herb is useful for treating these conditions.

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The entire black horehound plant possesses antispasmodic, antiemetic, stimulant, expectorant and vermifuge properties. The herb is used internally to treat conditions like gout, arthritis, morning sickness in pregnant women, travelling sickness, bronchial problems, nervous dyspepsia and menstrual disorders. The plants are harvested immediately after they begin to bloom and are dried up in the sun for use when needed. It is important to note that dried black horehound should never be stored in excess of a year. Although this herb is generally used dried after it is harvested just at the onset of the flowering season, sometimes the fresh plant is also used to prepare syrup.

Habitat and cultivation

Black horehound plants have a preference for growing in areas receiving full sunlight or those in partial shade. While growing in the wild, this plant keeps away from acidic soils, but, when cultivated, it possesses the aptitude to endure low pH levels up to 5. Although the black horehound is a very resilient plant, it is not so hardy when grown in colder regions. However, it can endure temperatures as low as -5°C to -10°C. While black horehound is cultivated extensively in herb gardens, it is rarely used, as it has a potently disagreeable flavour and odour.

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The essential oil obtained from black horehound plants is used for adulterating the oil extracted from another horehound species called white horehound (botanical name Marrubium vulgare). The leaves of black horehound release a horrible smell when they are crushed or bruised - an odour akin to stale sweat. In fact, the entire plant emits a potently disagreeable smell. Plants belonging to this species possess the ability self-sow readily, provided the growth conditions are suitable. Often, gardeners cultivate a particular named variety for its ornamental worth.

Black horehound is generally propagated by its seeds, which are sown in a greenhouse either in spring or autumn. Normally, the seeds begin to germinate within three to six weeks from the day of sowing, provided the temperature is maintained at 15°C. When the seedlings have grown to a reasonable height, they need to be pricked individually and transplanted into separate containers or pots. They can be planted outdoors into their permanent place either during the summer or in the next autumn.

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Plants of this species may also be propagated by root division, ideally undertaken during spring. While you can directly plant the comparatively large divisions outdoors in their permanent place of growth, the smaller divisions or clumps should preferably be grown in pots in a cold frame till they are established.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of the black horehound has revealed that this herb contains a number of diterpenoids, such as ballotinone, ballonigrin, ballotenol, marrubiin and 7-acetoxymarrubiin. In addition, this herb encloses phenylpropanoids possessing antioxidant properties.

Usual dosage

Various medicinal formulations, such as infusions, liquid extracts, tinctures and dry powders, prepared with black horehound are taken orally. The dosage of this herb is dependent on the therapeutic preparation used.

Traditionally, black horehound has been used in the form of a tincture or tea. Prepare the tea by adding about two teaspoon of the herb's leaves to one cup (250 ml) of hot water and leave it aside allowing the leaves to infuse for about 10 to 15 minutes. The standard dosage is drinking one cup of this tea thrice daily.

However, your physician or healthcare provider may also suggest different doses of this herb. Hence, it is advisable that in case you have any questions, check with your healthcare provider.

Side effects and cautions

Not much information regarding the use of black horehound plant is available. Therefore, it is advisable that in case you experience tightness of the throat or chest, breathing troubles, chest pain, hives or skin rash, you should contact your physician immediately.

Using products containing black horehound may also interact with specific drugs and supplements, counting sedatives and iron supplements. In fact, it can also hinder your body's aptitude to absorb iron. When used in combination with other sedatives, black horehound may not only have additive consequences, but also intensify the tranquilizing effect.

People having any known allergy to black horehound or if they have allergic reactions to any constituent of the black horehound products, they should avoid them totally.

Moreover, this herb should never be given to pregnant women, nursing mothers and children.

Black horehound has the potential to influence the menstrual cycle, which, in turn, may pose risks for pregnancy. Nursing mothers should not use this herb, as scientists are yet to ascertain the potential side effects of black horehound on breast-feeding infants.

People suffering from Parkinson's disease should also never take this herb or any product containing black horehound, as this herb has the potential to obstruct the dopamine's actions in the brain. It is important to note that lack or insufficiency of this brain chemical is said to be responsible for the symptoms related to Parkinson's disease.

Black horehound encloses a chemical compound that has an adverse impact on the brain. Scientists are concerned that using this herb may have an effect on Parkinson's disease treatment. In addition, there is some concern that the use of this herb may also be harmful for people suffering from psychotic disorder and schizophrenia.

It is important that you should consult your physician, pharmacist or a healthcare professional prior to starting treatment with any new medicine, counting supplements and health products. You should tell them about all the medicines, including herbal products, you are already taking.

Not much information regarding the safety of using black horehound, especially when it is applied to the skin directly or employed rectally, is available till date.

Collection and harvesting

Black horehound plants are harvested immediately when they start flowering.

Combinations

Black horehound is seldom used as a standalone herb. More often than not it is blended with other herbs like meadowsweet, ginger, peppermint and/ or chamomile to cure nausea and vomiting.

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