Everyone will recognise ivy (Hedera helix) – in the wild, in the city, perhaps in the garden or walking through the forest. This evergreen vine climbs its way effortlessly up walls and trees. But not many people know that it is a medicinal plant as well. An extract from the leaves of the ivy plant offers us a purely botanical remedy for cold sufferers with coughs. Ivy extract has a particularly soothing effect on phlegmy coughs. Read on to find out more about ivy extract, its use and its effects.
Ivy’s origins and habitats
The common ivy plant (Hedera helix) is a native species in Switzerland. It is by far the most common of the 17 different Hedera species. Hedera helix often grows up walls, trees or fences in gardens as well as in the wild. It is commonly used to add greenery to facades. Ivy plants prefer semi-shady places. Excessive water or waterlogged soil as well as prolonged periods of dryness are harmful to it. As a potted plant, it also prefers semi-shady locations and generous amounts of water.
Hedera helix is found all across Europe, with its habitat spanning all the way north to Sweden and south to Turkey. The vine is found mainly in forests, in stone quarries and on ruins. Today, this unassuming plant has even spread to areas of the world where it is not native. In these regions, including New Zealand, Australia and Canada, it is sometimes fought off as an invasive species.
Hedera helix: appearance and attributes
Common ivy is unmistakable: its leaves are green all year long, and it typically grows in the form of a climbing vine. Although it sometimes covers the ground, it has roots that allow it to climb as high as 20 meters up anything it comes into contact with, including trees, fences and walls.
The original shoot becomes wooden after several years. The leaves in the upper regions of the plant then begin to grow in an egg-like shape instead of their previous lobed shape. Ivy develops this “adult” form after seven to eight years. While most native plants bloom in the spring or summer, the inconspicuous, greenish ivy flowers make their first appearance in autumn, from September to October. This means the ivy plant is an important food source for bees and other insects at a time when nectar is otherwise scarce. The fruits form in the winter. The bluish-black berries are toxic to humans but can be eaten by many birds.
Cultural history of ivy
Ivy plants can live for up to 450 years. In addition, ivy vines become firmly and permanently rooted in their soil, which is why they used to be a symbol of eternal life and loyalty. The growth of ivy was thought to be a sign of God’s presence. Marrying couples were given wreaths of ivy as a symbol of eternal love and fidelity.
The German name for the plant (Efeu) apparently goes back to the old Saxon word, which roughly translates as “climber”. The scientific name Hedera is derived from the Greek hedra, meaning “seat”, because the plant “sits” on trees. Helix describes the spiralling of the plant as it winds its way up trees.
What do ivy leaves contain and what are their effects?
The leaves of the ivy plant have medicinal uses. The triterpene saponins, such as hederacoside and alpha hederin, are mainly responsible for the medicinal effect. The leaves also contain smaller quantities of flavonoids, essential oils and phenol carboxylic acids.
Ivy extracts stimulate the bronchial mucus membranes to produce thinner phlegm. As a result, the plant extracts help to release phlegm and make it easier to cough up. Ivy preparations also have a soothing, relaxing effect on the muscles in the respiratory tract.
Use of Ivy: a soothing effect on phlegmy coughs
The effect of ivy leaves on phlegmy coughs has been backed up by numerous studies. But people should not simply pick and consume the leaves themselves, because such preparations taken in the wrong dose are not well tolerated by everyone. The dry extract contained in PROSPAN® Cough Syrup and PROSPAN® Cough Liquid is extracted using a special method to create a standardised, safe and well-tolerated medicinal product with a consistent effect.
Herbal cough syrup or drops containing ivy help loosen stubborn mucous, soothe the bronchi, have an anti-inflammatory effect on the bronchial mucus membranes and help clear the lungs. In this way, they help greatly in alleviating cold coughs and improving breathing. This often helps prevent mucous coughs from lasting too long and causing longer bouts of bronchitis. Ivy is also sometimes used for chronic inflammatory respiratory problems.
Please note: Herbal remedies may also have interactions and side effects. Please read the package insert and talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you require further information.