What is Hedera Helix?
Hedera helix or English ivy is an evergreen plant popular with gardeners because of its attractive year round appearance. It is especially popular during the festive period but it can provide a beautiful ground cover for the entire year. This beautiful plant can bring life and color to your garden and the outside of your home. It creeps up the sides of any structures including walls, fences and trees.
These days English ivy can be seen decorating gardens the world over. Originally a native of Europe, the plant was brought to the United States by colonists in the early 18th century. These days it thrives across the states all the way from the east coast to the west.
The plant can grow happily in shaded areas, forest clearings, slopes, cliffs and basically any area with fertile, moist soil.
Fast Facts about Hedera Helix
- Hedera helix is commonly known as English ivy.
- This popular garden plant is also used for medicinal purposes.
- The leaves of the plant are used to produce medicine.
- Hedera helix has a long history of medicinal use. It was used in ancient Greece to reduce swelling, and prevent intoxication. It was also used as a natural anesthetic.
- It is taken orally for a range of respiratory conditions including bronchial swelling, congestion and coughs.
- It is also taken orally to relieve arthritis, rheumatism, gout and other complaints which cause swelling of the joints.
- Other uses of English ivy include liver conditions, gallbladder complaints and spleen disorders.
- English ivy can also be applied to the skin topically. It can be used to treat inflammation, joint pain and ulcers on the skin. It is also used topically to teat skin infections, burns and calluses.
Health Benefits of English Ivy
Although English ivy is best known as an ornamental plant, it also has a number of potential medicinal uses. We will look at the specific uses of the plant very shortly but first, let’s take a look at how the plant works for your health.
How Hedera Helix Works
Hedera helix is used orally to help treat a wide variety of respiratory conditions. It is believed to work by stimulating the mucus glands and because it possesses natural expectorant properties. These properties can help clear the airways allowing you to expel the build-up of mucus and phlegm allowing you to breathe more comfortably. It may also help reduce swelling on the respiratory tract.
English ivy might also have antioxidant properties which can lead to a wide range of health benefits. The plant also has a range of other medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, antiarthritis, antispasmodic, antimicrobial and antitumor actions.
The plant contains flavonoids and triterpenoid saponins that may exert a range of health benefits. Studies have found that triterponoid saponins can fight bacteria and improve absorption, the flavonoids found in the plant can help detoxify the system, strengthen the blood vessels and relieve allergies.
Coughs and Congestion
English ivy may well help clear up a number of respiratory issues because of its natural expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties. The herb can help in a number of ways. It helps loosen the build up of mucus and phlegm in the respiratory passage making it easier for you to expel while it can also help relax the airways making breathing more comfortable.
Animal studies have also found that the saponins found in Hedera helix have antispasmodic properties that can soothe spasms in the respiratory system helping to make coughs less painful. (3)
These actions make Hedera helix a great natural choice for cold symptoms, coughs, bronchitis, COPD and congestion. because of this, the herb is used as an ingredient in several commercial cough syrups and herbal drops.
Because of its healing actions on the respiratory system, proponents also claim that Hedera helix has long been used to treat asthma naturally. Research into the effects of the herb on asthma is sparse but several studies have found that that English ivy extract helped improve the lung function of children suffering from chronic bronchial asthma.
However, a review of the studies done to date suggested that more studies were needed before firm conclusions could be drawn.(1)
Make sure that you speak with your doctor before treating yourself or your children with the herb, However, a typical dose for asthma is around 25 drops of liquid extract to be taken twice daily for kids and 50 drops twice daily for adults.
Arthritis and Joint Pain
Because of its excellent anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, Hedera helix can also be used as a natural treatment for joint pain in people with rheumatism or arthritis.
One animal study published in 2013 looked at the anti-inflammatory and pain relieving effects of dried extract of the herb on mice. The researchers found that the mice treated with the extract showed significant improvements in terms of inflammation and pain. They concluded that Hedara helix represented a potential, cost-effective remedy for arthritis and inflammation. (2)
Improving Air Quality and Allergies
English ivy is quite a controversial plant. Many experts recommend that you don’t plant it outdoors because it can damage your walls or trees while others say that it protects them from harm. Even if you do not want to grow the plant outside, it can be grown indoors and studies suggest there may be some beneficial reasons for this.
A study conducted by NASA started it all off. The researchers evaluated the effects on air pollution of a number of indoor plants and found that Hedera helix was the most effective. According to the study, the plant reduced the levels of carcinogens like benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. This study led to a number of media articles lauding the air purifying qualities of the plant. (4)
However, the number of houseplants needed to clean the air is likely to be many times higher than the average household would have.
Nevertheless, other studies have been done which suggest that English ivy can reduce the number of mold and fecal matter particles in the home. While the results were impressive, the experiments were conducted in very small, contained areas and it is not known how many plants would be needed to purify the air in an average home. (5)
Side Effects and Precautions
- Cough syrups including Athos, Abrilar and Prospan which contain Hedera helix is likely safe taken orally at the correct dosage for a week. However, there is little data regarding its safety for long term use.
- English ivy can cause skin irritation when it is taken orally.
- Taking English ivy can cause moderate stomach complaints.
- We do not have much data regarding the safety of applying English ivy topically. It may cause skin irritation but serious allergic reaction appears to be rare.
- Pregnant women and breastfeeding moms should avoid using English ivy since we have no data regarding its safety.
- People who are allergic to ivy must avoid using the plant orally or topically. Allergies to ivy are quite rare affecting around 1 in every 10,000 people. Side effects for sensitive people can include swelling, shortness of breath, itching and redness in the skin.
- In very high doses, more serious side effects are possible including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Herdera helix also known as English ivy has a number of therapeutic properties including anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, analgesic and expectorant actions.
- It is used as an ingredient in commercial cough syrups and is an effective natural treatment for various respiratory conditions including bronchitis and asthma.
- Studies suggest that English ivy is an effective treatment for rheumatism and arthritis.
- Hedera helix can also help purify the air and may help alleviate allergies but studies done so far may be difficult to replicate in normal household conditions.