In England, horehound was made into “an appetizing and healthful” ale and beverage teas are palatable if heavily sweetened to disguise the bitterness. Horehound candy is easy to make.
Horehound has erect, woolly, square stalks 2 to 3 feet tall, and wrinkled, scalloped, gray-green opposite leaves that are smooth or downy above and fuzzier below. From June to September, rings of small white flowers crowd in the leaf axils in prickly white calyces, and the minutely hooked seeds are carried to new sites on the fur of passing animals. The fresh leaves smell musky (some say fruit- or thyme-scented), but the odor disappears on drying. Horehound is an important bee herb.
Common horehound looks rather plain; it’s neither tidy like hyssop nor airy like fennel. Henry Beston (Herbs and the Earth, 1935) notes that in olden times, “that wan nettle-like presence with its pointed, hostile bracts” would be relegated, along with other weedy herbs, to a “patch” somewhere outside the herb garden proper. Some gardeners prefer to plant the whiter, woollier, more ornamental silver horehound (M. incanum) or Spanish horehound (M. supinum), which is more compact and has pinkish flowers, but both of these are hardy only to Zone 7.
Creative gardeners have found ways of showing off common horehound to its best advantage, however, teaming it with herbs of contrasting foliage such as tarragon and oregano, rue, southernwood, and butterfly weed. It contrasts nicely with glossy peony leaves and colorful California poppies in flower beds, too. Horehound tolerates poor, dry soil and is thus a fine choice for a xeriscape, especially in difficult sites such as next to driveways and sidewalks.
Indoors, horehound (pruned to keep it in-bound) can join small-leaved scented geraniums and upright and creeping thymes in dish gardens. The tops dry well and are attractive in either dried or fresh arrangements with artemisias, sages, bronze fennel, lemon verbena, myrtle, yarrow leaves, and variegated ivy, to suggest just a few possibilities.
Buy a plant or start horehound from seed. Well-drained soil is the secret to growing this herb, as too much moisture in the winter can kill it. Sow seeds outdoors in spring or fall, 1/2 inch deep. Stratification (sowing the seeds in a moist potting medium and refrigerating for a month or two) improves germination of seeds sown indoors. Thin the young plants to 10 to 20 inches apart; mature plants measure up to 2 feet across. Gardeners disagree whether propagation from root divisions and cuttings is difficult; divisions are taken in spring and cuttings in late summer. Layering is another propagation option. However, there is little need for any of these strategies, as horehound self-sows in the garden with no special treatment, and you will soon have all the plants you can use.
• Companion Plants
7247 N. Coolville Ridge Rd.
Athens, OH 45701
• Well-Sweep Herb Farm
205 Mount Bethel Rd.
Port Murray, NJ 07865