Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Therapeutic Potential of Ivy Leaf (Hedera helix)

Article & Photo by Ann Walker
I took this photo a few days ago near the River Thames at Wallingford on a lovely autumn day. Ivy (Hedera helix) is one of the few plants in bloom at this time of the year and some species of bees are totally dependent on it for their winter supplies of honey. Ivy is a tough plant in the same family as ginseng (Panax ginseng), so herbal connections should not be unexpected.

However, I was surprised to find earlier this year that at least two herbal supplement products containing ivy have been granted THR (Traditional Herbal Registration) status by the MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, UK), yet ivy is not a herb much used by herbal practitioners in Britain. (A list of herbal products granted a THR can be found on the MHRA website by entering “List of products granted a Traditional Herbal Registration” in the search box.)

As the criteria for obtaining a THR is very strict and these ivy products are now available freely for sale to the public, I thought it would be worthwhile to include a monograph on ivy for our updated version of the Discovering Herbal Medicine course.

Ivy leaf has a long-documented history of use, particularly in continental Europe, for its ability to loosen sticky phlegm in the airways. The herb contains an impressive number of active compounds and, in particular, saponins – a group of compounds related to those found in ginseng. These ivy compounds show physiological and anti-microbial actions in test-tube and animal studies, which support the ivy’s traditional use for respiratory-tract infections. Although clinical trial data is scarce, three randomized clinical studies carried out in Germany show positive effects on respiratory health of the consumption of ivy extracts for adults and children (PMID: 22532491; 24916707; 29441845).

Ivy leaf preparations are safe taken in recommended (small) doses combined with other herbs and as such are well tolerated. Syrups, drops, tablets, suppositories and liquids containing ivy leaf extracts often combined with thyme (Thymus vulgaris) (see PMID: 17063641) are now available throughout the EU for symptoms of coughing, especially following bacterial infections. Potentially, the herb holds promise for treating conditions wider than just the respiratory tract, but more research is needed. Ivy leaf is clearly a herb with therapeutic potential and herbal practitioners in the UK might consider including it in their own materia medica.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner