Horehound is one herb with a funny name.
As weird as it is, this perennial herb can be made into candy, seasoning, or even used to ease cold or flu symptoms.
The plant is covered with tiny fuzzy hairs that give it its name.
It’s super easy to care for and will produce you plenty of yield even in crappy soil.
Let’s dive in and learn how to care for horehound.
Quick care guide: Horehound
|Origin||South Africa, Central Asia, Europe, Americas|
|Scientific name||Marrubium vulgare|
|Other names||Hoarfrost, Hoarhound, Housebane|
|Soil type||Well-draining, sandy, loamy|
|Soil pH||4-8 (acidic to alkaline)|
|Sunlight requirement||Full sun|
|Colors||White, black, green, pink, yellow|
|Max height||3 feet|
|Max width||3 feet|
|Ideal temperature range||75-80F|
|Watering requirements||When the top 1″ of soil is dry|
|Fertilizer requirements||Low, balanced all-purpose plant food|
|Days until germination||14-21 days|
|Days until bloom||1-2 years|
|Speed of growth||Moderate|
|Hardiness zones||4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10|
|Plant depth||0.25 inches|
|Plant spacing||10 inches|
|Propagation||Seeds, division, cuttings, transplants|
|Common pests||Spider mites, horehound bugs|
|Common diseases||Root rot, bulb rot, powdery mildew|
|Grown in container||Yes|
|Uses||Edible, tea, candy, seasoning, medicine|
So, what’s horehound?
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) sounds like the name of a dog species, but it’s one weird plant.
It’s an herb that’s used in a variety of foods- everything from candy to tea.
Despite the weird name, this herb can be thought of as a cousin to mint. It can be culled for a variety of purposes and add some flavor to your foods when you want to mix it up a bit.
The plant is the basis of old-fashioned horehound candy. You may have tried this candy before without even knowing it. It was also used to alleviate cold or flu symptoms dating back to ancient times.
It tolerates a variety of soil conditions and is cold hardy. It’s a perennial flowering edible herb with a bitter taste.
Why is it called horehound?
Horehound, wooly horehound, housebane, hoarhound, or marvel.
Whatever you call it, it’s called horehound because it stems from the old word “hourhoune” which roughly translates to hairy.
This herb is indeed hairy with tiny follicles stemming from the foliage, stems, and elsewhere.
The plant is from the same group that houses pennyroyal, basil, oregano, mint, and more (Lamiaceae). Horehound has deep history back to the ancient days in Rome and Egypt where it was used for medicinal purposes.
Each plant can grow over 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, which makes it a relatively large herb when compared to other plants in the same genus.
Does horehound bloom?
Horehound produces flowers throughout the peak season (summer). The flowers are large and pink.
They attract bees and other pollinators to the garden. Horehounds typically grow flowers in the third year if growing from seed. And this varies depending on the type you’re growing and the local conditions.
What flavor is horehound?
Horehound doesn’t taste particularly “good” for most people.
The herb is extremely bitter and doesn’t taste good when eaten raw. It needs to be dried and combined with other flavors to be edible.
However, once you process it a bit, it can be used for candy, beer, tea, and more. It’s commonly combined with some sugar to give it a licorice-like taste.
White horehound has a bitter scent and the odor disappears as it dries.
Drying it out removes the odor, but doesn’t get rid of the bitterness. You need to combine with other ingredients to remove the bitterness.
How to identify horehound
Horehound is a woody herb that grows about 2-3 feet tall. It’s natively found in soils that are by the road or dry scrublands.
The plant has hairy, serrated foliage that sprouts alternatively on the stem and is either white, pink, or purple. Each cluster of leaves forms at the axils during the peak summertime.
You can find this plant growing natively in Africa, central Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and other countries. The plant is traditionally used for fixing cold or flu symptoms back to the 1st century BC.
The wrinkled leaves with white hairs give it its name. White horehound has white hairs and does well in dry, sandy soils like in a xeriscape.
Are horehounds poisonous?
Horehounds can cause some negative effects if ingested in large amounts or sensitive individuals.
Some noted symptoms of horehound ingestion are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, changes in blood sugar, blood pressure, and more.
Also, note the horehound type.
There are three main cultivars:
- Water horehound
- Black horehound
- White horehound
Black and white are both toxic in large doses, however, only the white horehound is said to have medicinal properties.
Can you eat horehound?
Yes, horehound is edible and can be used for a variety of purposes like seasoning, tea, drinks, or making candy.
However, sensitive individuals should avoid consuming it.
Also, when eaten in large quantities, it can cause some adverse effects.
Propagating this herb is very easy and it requires minimal care once you get it started. There are multiple ways to accomplish this and the choice is yours.
Sow seeds directly into the soil. If you’re in the right hardiness zone, there’s no need to do any manual cold stratification because the outdoor temperatures will take care of this.
If you’re in the wrong zone, you’ll have to stratify them yourself by putting them in the fridge first before you plant.
The seeds should be surface sown, but a light soil coverage helps prevent the seeds from being blown away by the wind if you’re in a windy area.
When planting, remember that the moisture will help the seedlings emerge. But overdoing will kill them.
This involves taking a glass jar and putting some substrate in there. You can use sand or gritty soil. Add some seeds then mix it.
Pour some water and soak the entire substrate, but don’t let it drown. Put a lid on it and then put it in your refrigerator. Keep it cool and add water if it dries. Wait 30 days and then take it out.
Get a seed starter and plant them normally. Use 3 inches of seed starter substrate and then put a thin layer of sand on top.
Place the seeds in each compartment 0.25” deep. Spritz and keep moist. When they germinate, let them get about 5 hours of sunlight a day.
Transplant to the garden when they reach 3 inches in height and space them 10 inches apart for best nutrient intake. Thin them to 10 inches apart at a minimum. Harvest the leaves after the plant flowers.
If you’re in the right zone where the winters provide enough chill, then plant them directly into the soil. Choose wisely so you don’t have to relocate them later.
Sprinkle seeds 0.25” deep and space them at least 10 inches apart. The best time to plant horehound is in the fall.
They’ll stay dormant over the winter and will germinate in the spring. Keep the area clear so people and pets don’t trample it.
The plant produces burr-like seeds which have tiny seeds inside. You don’t need to sow them too deeply as in nature they just drop on the soil surface.
This is the easiest way by far to propagate horehound. Get a small pot and fill it with rich soil.
Find established horehound and then snip off a stem that has a lot of leaves. Use a pruner that’s sterilized and try to find a stem that has at least 5 or more pairs of leaves.
Cut right below a pair of leaves and remove the bottom 2-3 pairs. So it looks like a stem with just a few pairs at the top.
Now place the end that you trimmed into your soil. You can use a rooting hormone or gel to encourage it to take root.
Keep it moist and let it develop roots.
This technique requires a larger stem so you’ll need a current generation of horehound for it to work. Consider asking a friend or neighbor. Or just buy one.
Get an 8-inch stem and remove all the leaves. Put the stem in the new site and cover it with 1” of soil.
You’re basically going to “plant” the stems by putting them into the soil.
If it’s not straight and one end sticks up, you can cut it where it bends so that it’s flat. You don’t need to cover it completely. Some parts should be exposed to the sun. Water it lightly.
After a few weeks, the leaves will grow from the part of the stem that you covered. There will be leaves, shoots, and new foliage where it was covered with soil.
When the first 2-3 pairs of leaves show, you can cut this part of the stem out and then plant it.
How do you grow a horehound plant?
This section covers some basic guidelines for growing the horehound. It’s pretty easy and perfect for beginners who want to spice up their garden (literally).
Where does it grow?
Horehounds natively grow in scrublands, by the roadside, or in poor soil.
It’s tolerant of different soil conditions, so even if you have crappy soil, it should be able to work. Although it won’t thrive.
Regardless, this makes it good for people that don’t have the best soil in their garden.
It can be grown in full sun with well-draining soil and planted with tomatoes.
When should you plant it?
The best time to plant horehound is in the spring whether you’re planting from transplant, cuttings, or seed. This gives it plenty of time to grow strong roots before going dormant in the winter.
Horehounds grow best in USDA zones 4-10. It readily tolerates the cold weather and can be grown even in zone 3, provided that the plant is mulched over the winter to protect the root system.
Otherwise, it’s a perennial that’ll provide you with edible herbs each season.
Horehounds grow in most soil types and aren’t picky. Even soils that have gone dry or have poor nutrients will be OK.
However, if you want to give it the best possible yield, use an organic, nutrient-dense soil that’s gritty and well-draining.
It has wet feet, so you need to make sure that the water doesn’t get caught up in the soil whether you’re planting in soil or a container.
Some popular choices are sandy, loamy, or clay soils. The plant is grown in nutrient-deficient soils and does well.
Remove all roots, rocks, and other debris before planting.
Horehound herbs grow in a pH range of 4.5-8.3. This ranges from acidic to slightly alkaline. The plant is hardy and tolerates a range of soil pH.
If planting from seed, sow 0.25” deep. If planting from stem cuttings, plant accordingly based on the length of the stem.
See the above sections for more details.
Space each plant up to 24 inches apart to minimize competition.
You can plant them near each other as close as 10 inches, but expect lower yields if the soil is poor.
Don’t overwater it. It can handle some drought and dry periods, but overwatering and giving it wet feet will kill it.
Because of this, you should plan ahead of time and not companion plan it with other herbs that require a lot of water.
Water when the top 2 inches go dry. It’s fine to let it dry out between waterings. If it likes the sun so much, it probably doesn’t like water.
Avoid planting with mint, parsley, cilantro, or other water-hungry herbs.
A good companion plant is a tomato, which is a perfect partner to the horehound because they play well together.
It needs minimum irrigation and over watering will kill it.
Horehounds love sunlight. This plant can’t tolerate shade or partial sun unless you don’t care about optimal taste.
The plant will do best when exposed to full sun for at least 5 hours a day.
You don’t want it to be in peak sunlight for the whole day though. Just bright sun without any filters for some afternoon shine.
Partial sun works, but will often result in smaller harvest yield and the plant will grow more legs to reach the sunlight rather than produce edible foliage.
To encourage a larger yield, put some organic fertilizer in the early spring.
A balanced, natural fertilizer should do the trick (4-4-4).
Avoid high nitrogen percentages. This just encourages the plant to become leggy rather than produce those tasty bitter leaves!
Fertilizer isn’t required, but it helps get you the best possible yield. Use as directed. Low fertility is not a problem. It adapts to it.
But you can apply all-purpose plant food to help encourage it to grow.
Horehounds require little in terms of pruning. You can trim it to size a few times per year so it doesn’t become too leggy.
Otherwise, clip the big leaves for harvest.
When you do cull, cut the biggest leaves first for your use and let the smaller younger leaves grow.
Regular trimming allows the plant to focus its energy on plant growth and larger yield every year. It also makes it look cleaner and reduces pests.
That’s about all the maintenance there is!
How to harvest horehound
Harvesting is super easy.
You can start collecting the leaves about 80 days after you plant them. Knowing when to pick your horehound is key to getting a not-so-bitter harvest.
So, how do you harvest it?
Use a clean pair of pruners and cut the stems whole at 1” at the soil level. The blossoms of the horehound will start to open around the time it’s ready for harvest.
Cutting it back will allow it to produce again for the same season, so you’re getting double the herb by cutting back.
When the stems start to wilt and turn hard, they’re done producing and will go dormant until next season.
Harvesting at this point will result in a very bitter yield, so cut it back.
Wash all produce before using them. The tiny hairs collect a bunch of dirt and other things when it’s growing outdoors. So rinse it well.
Growing in containers
Horehounds can be grown in a container provided that it has at least a 10” diameter and multiple drainage holes.
Add some sand or rocks at the base to prevent clogging. The soil should be especially well-draining, even if it’s nutrient deficient.
Avoid adding fertilizer as it builds up over time. Water more often because it dries out very quickly.
Horehound can be stored in the fridge. Use a ziplock bag and put leftovers or surplus in storage. They can be stored up to 1 week before use.
Horehound can be put into the freezer as well. They last up to half a year if frozen.
Horehound can also be preserved.
Dry out the leaves and let them hang upside down. You can tie the stems together and hang them upside down in a dry area with good airflow.
Keep them out of sunlight. When they become completely dry, they should crumble easily.
Transfer them to a sealed jar and keep them in a cool, dry area for future use. This is a good way to store excess harvests of horehounds.
If dried, they can be safely stored for years.
Growing horehound indoors
While you can grow horehound indoors if placed next to a sunny window or under a powerful grow light, it does best outdoors.
Indoor conditions are often too humid and reduce the ability for proper soil drainage.
It also filters UV light which results in smaller yields. Plus, being a potted plant reduces the overall plant’s produce.
Horehounds have minimal pest problems, probably due to their bitter nature. You won’t find many types of bugs going after it.
The main culprits are horehound bugs, which can be controlled by horticultural oil. This bug looks like an orange and black beetle.
It’s a type of stink bug that saps the horehound. New shoots will wither if attacked.
Other than this bug, horehounds aren’t known to have any pest issues. It’s also rabbit and deer resistant because of its flavor.
Pests will stay away from it rather than eat it, so it’s used as a natural bug repellent.
Beneficial insects like bees and wasps may show up in your yard. But these can be left alone because they don’t damage the plant.
Mildew and fungus are the primary issues from overwatering and poorly draining soil.
If you’re growing your horehound in partial sunlight or somewhere that has a lot of water buildup, you may introduce mildew to your plant. This shows up as powdery white spots on the leaves or black mold on the stems.
It’s common and can be controlled by reducing watering, pruning the leaves, and using some soapy water.
Some of the best plants to grow with horehound are those that tolerate full sun with minimal watering.
Considering planting it with lemon balm, tomatoes, peppers, or bee balm.
These are all excellent edibles that can be grown in the same flower bed with horehound and require similar photoperiods, wearing requirements and temperatures.
Don’t plant with other herbs like basil or cilantro. These don’t like the sun as much as horehounds.
How to use horehound
Horehound is used as an edible herb that can be utilized in a variety of applications:
- Make horehound tea
- Make horehound candy
- Season or garnish meat, fish, or other dishes
- Use it to substitute mint or licorice
- Use it to ease your flu or cold
- Add to beer or drinks
- Repel grasshoppers and aphids
- Help tomatoes grow
Here are some references you can check out:
- Bi-Weekly discussion – Horehound : herbalism – Reddit
- I needed to know what a Horehound tastes like. : candy – Reddit
- Marrubium vulgare (horehound) – CABI.org
- Horehound in the Garden – DigitalCommons@USU
- White horehound – Weed Control Handbook
- Horehound // Mizzou WeedID
- Marrubium vulgare – Wikipedia
Enjoy your horehound
You now have all the basics to plant, grow, and care for the horehound in your garden.
With its versatility, you can use it for food, candy, tea, beer, flavoring, seasoning, or whatever else you want!
It can be used to repel insects, attract beneficial ones, and also maybe even help out your tomatoes.
This easy-to-grow herb is perfect for beginners who want to grow some edibles. It requires little maintenance, little water, and no plant food if unwanted.
So it’s a good herb to start with to get some experience if you’re completely new to gardening. So check them out too.
What do you think about this plant?
Do you have any experience or other ideas to best use it? Leave a comment and let other readers know.
I took interest into microflora and microgreens before it became mainstream. The idea of growing an entire ecosystem on a tiny scale simply was astounding. That’s where I discovered that I actually like raising plants and wasn’t as much of a black thumb as I thought. Now, I’m relaying what I’ve learned to others who are getting into the hobby in a way that anyone can understand.