Ivy: Medicinal Plant of Ancient Greeks & Romans

Even the ancient Greeks and Romans use the ivy as a medicinal plant, especially for the treatment of burns and corns. As cough medicine, it was discovered only about 200 years ago. A Silesian doctor observed that the farmer’s children, who drank their milk from ivy-wooden bowls, suffered less often from coughing.

Ivy (Hedera helix) is one of the most long-lived plants: it only blossoms for the first time at the age of 70 – with small, green flowers; 200-year-old ivy plants are not uncommon. The long, firm, winding stems were the inspiration for the technical name of the ivy: “hedea” is the Celtic name for a rope, “helissó” means “to twist, to twist”.

Modern applications of ivy

The effective ingredients of the ivy are mainly in the leaves. They are called saponins (from Latin “sapo” = soap), because they foam dissolved in water. Laboratory studies also found antibiotic properties in alpha-hederin, which kills bacteria, viruses and fungi.

The most important ingredients of ivy are:

  • Hederasaponine
  • polyacetylenes
  • Sterols (stigmasterol, sitosterol, cholesterol, campesterol)
  • Caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid
  • essential oils and others

According to studies by the University of Bonn, saponin alpha-hederin in particular stimulates the formation of substances that liquefy viscous mucus. This makes it easier to cough and breathe, the coughing stimulus is reduced and the bronchi can relax.

In asthma, ivy, given as a supportive, can relieve respiratory distress and coughing fits. In addition, the saponins inhibit the growth of viruses and bacteria.

Ivy was formerly planted in the Alpine regions for health-promoting house greening. The people had namely made the experience that occurred in the inhabitants of ivy-infested houses rare colitis (iodine deficiency goitre).

Today it is known that this was due to the iodine emissions of the ivy leaves, because ivy “iodine” captures the most important vital substance for a healthy thyroid gland from the soil and the air.

These are the areas of application of the ivy:

acute and chronic respiratory diseases, e.g. As cold cough, bronchitis, whooping cough, bronchial asthma
Hyperthyroidism due to iodine deficiency
Promising is the recent discovery that some hederasaponins have cell damaging effects against tumor cells. In addition, it has been demonstrated that certain substances of this group can protect against mutations caused, for example, by the known carcinogen benzpyrene.

Another group of ivy, the polyacetylenes (falcarinone, falcarinol), also acts against fungal attack, but also has antibacterial, analgesic and sedative effects.

Ready-to-use preparations for safe use

With all positive characteristics of the ivy one must consider that all plant parts are poisonous. Especially in children, the consumption of berries and leaves in even the smallest amounts can lead to diarrhea and cramps.

When pruning the plant in the garden gloves are recommended because the sap can cause severe rashes. It should therefore only be used as ready-made preparations from the pharmacy.

For drug extraction, the dried ivy leaves are first rinsed with a mixture of water and alcohol to dissolve out the ingredients. The alcohol is then removed and the remaining concentrate dried. This dry extract is then processed into high-quality preparations so that the proportion of ingredients always remains the same.

During pregnancy and lactation you should refrain from taking ivy for safety’s sake.