What is herbal medicine?
Herbal medicine involves using a plant, or part of a plant, for its healing purposes.
Herbal medicine has been used since ancient times, originating in several traditional cultures, such as in Chinese medicine and Indigenous Australian medicine. They are still used worldwide to this day.2
How do herbal medicines work?
Herbs contain a certain level of biological activity in their naturally occurring chemicals. Some pharmaceutical medicines are even developed from plant-based ingredients.2
Even though they are herbs, they can still have activity in the body and can therefore interact with other medicines. You should consult your doctor or pharmacist before using a herbal medicine to determine if it is suitable for you.2
History of ivy leaf
Ivy had a great deal of significance in ancient times; it was a symbol of fidelity in ancient Greece and was associated with the Roman god of revelry and good times.3
Traditional herbalists used ivy berries against the plague, and ivy leaves boiled in vinegar were used for stomach aches and for cleansing ulcers.4 These methods are of course no longer used – in the present day, you can find ivy leaf as an ingredient in natural cough medicines at your local pharmacy.
How does ivy leaf work?
Ivy leaf has been found to contain 5-8% saponins (a chemical compound) and a low content of emetine (an alkaloid) – combined, these have the effect of helping thin, loosen and clear mucus from the chest.4
Properties of ivy leaf1
The saponins in ivy leaf can help relieve cough symptoms by helping to:
- Thin the consistency of mucus in your airways
- Loosen the mucus from your chest
- Clear mucus by making it easier to cough up
- Calm coughs
Ivy leaf in scientific studies
One study showed that after 7 to 10 days of treatment with ivy leaf extract, upper respiratory tract infection symptoms like cough or expectoration were improved or cured in a large majority of patients.5
In another study, GPs treated patients with ivy leaf extract – these patients had either irritating cough from the common cold, bronchitis, or respiratory tract diseases with mucus formation. 86% of doctors and 90% of patients in the study rated the efficacy of ivy leaf extract as either ‘very good’ or ‘good’ after an average of 12 days treatment.6
Safety of ivy leaf
Ivy leaf extract has been shown to also be well tolerated, with 97% of doctors and patients in a study rating its tolerability as either ‘very good’ or ‘good’.6 Another study found that there was “considerable evidence for the safety of hedera helix” (ivy leaf).5
How to use ivy leaf
Ivy leaf can be found in natural cough medicines available in pharmacies and some supermarkets – ask your local pharmacist for more information.
1 Healthline 2016a, Everything You Want to Know About English Ivies (Accessed 30 May 2019). https://www.healthline.com/health/5-fast-facts-english-ivy
2 myDr 2018, Herbal Medicine (Accessed 30 May 2019). https://www.mydr.com.au/complementary-medicine/herbal-medicine
3 The Herbal Academy 2015, History and Uses of Common Ivy (Accessed 30 May 2019). https://theherbalacademy.com/history-and-uses-of-common-ivy/
4 University of Michigan 2018, Ivy Leaf (Accessed 30 May 2019). https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2116002
5 Holzinger F. and Chenot J-F. 2010, Systematic Review of Clinical Trials Assessing the Effectiveness of Ivy Leaf (Hedera Helix) for Acute Upper Respiratory Tract Infections, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, doi:10.1155/2011/382789.
6 Buechi S. et al. 2005, Open Trial to Assess Aspects of Safety and Efficacy of a Combined Herbal Cough Syrup with Ivy and Thyme, Forsch Komplementärmed Klass Naturheilkd, DOI: 10.1159/000088934.