The use of ivy leaf (or Hedera helix) can be traced back to ancient times when it was used in rituals and medicinally.
Wreaths of ivy were used in dedications to Bacchus – also known as Dionysus, the god of wine and intoxication – and were bound to the forehead to prevent intoxication. The leaves were also bruised and simmered in wine to prevent the drinker from becoming drunk. Greek priests would present newly-weds with ivy wreaths as a symbol of fidelity.
Ivy leaf at a glance
Name: Hedera helix (Ivy leaf, English ivy)
Part used: Leaf
Actions: expectorant, secretolytic, antispasmodic
Conditions used for: cough, respiratory catarrh
How to take it: Ivy leaf is best taken as syrup and can also be taken as a tea or as a lozenge
Where do I find it: From a health food store or pharmacy. A naturopath or herbalist may have the liquid form in their dispensary.
Today, ivy leaf is used therapeutically to help relieve symptoms that affect the respiratory system – in particular coughs and catarrh (inflammation of the nose and throat with increased production of mucus).
Ivy leaf may help to relieve symptoms associated with respiratory catarrh.
Ivy leaf may also help to ease cough, help to relieve sinusitis, a build up of congestion and catarrh.
How it works
The main components of ivy leaf that give it its health benefits are called saponins. The saponins trigger a response or irritation in the gut mucosa which then leads to stimulation of the mucous glands in the bronchioles which is essentially a reflex reaction.
The saponins in ivy leaf increase secretions in the respiratory tract which helps to thin out mucus in the chest, making it easier to ‘cough up’. Thick and tenacious mucus will stimulate the cough reflex. By thinning out and clearing the congestion, the cough reflex is not stimulated.
A further action of ivy leaf that is thought to affect its actions as a makes it an effective cough remedy is as an antispasmodic that may help to reduce coughing.
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References available on request