The Health Benefits of Ivy Leaf

For the common cold, bronchitis, inflammation, and arthritis

Ivy Leaf tablets and cough syrup

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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English ivy (Hedera helix L.) is a common evergreen climbing vine. Its leaves are sometimes used in herbal medicine. You can find claims that it helps a wide range of maladies from arthritis to warts.

Not all of the claims are backed by science. Researchers are learning more about the potential medicinal uses of ivy, though. Some of the work is promising.

This article will look at research into the potential health benefits, how it may work, side effects, and how to take and store the herbal remedy.

Other Names for Ivy Leaf

  • English ivy
  • Gum ivy
  • Hedera taurica
  • Hederae helicis folium
  • Herbes à cors
  • Hiedra común
  • Lierre/lierre commun/lierre grimpant
  • True ivy
  • Woodbind

Health Benefits

Research into ivy leaf has suggested it may have benefits as a/an:

  • Allergy remedy
  • Antioxidant
  • Gastrointestinal remedy (pain/spasm)
  • Tumor growth inhibitor
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antifungal
  • Antiviral
  • Cough remedy (to encourage mucus removal or suppress the reflex)
  • Liver protectant

Evidence isn't yet strong enough to recommend ivy for any medical uses. More research into its safety and effectiveness is needed.

The best-supported uses so far are as a treatment for cough, inflammation, and arthritis.

Still, do not substitute ivy leaf (or any supplement) for standard medical treatment. Consult a doctor before using ivy leaf for any condition.

Cough Treatment

A 2020 review said ivy leaf is most proven as a cough suppressant and expectorant. (Expectorants make a cough more productive).

Ivy leaf even caught the attention of COVID-19 researchers. However, the review concluded the evidence was too weak to recommend it.

But a separate 2020 review said it has a role in COVID-19 and influenza treatment. Researchers said it's effective and safer than drugs with a similar effect.

Ivy leaf is somewhat popular as a natural cough syrup for kids. A 2012 study involving 268 children 12 and younger found it was safe and effective. 

Additionally, a 2020 study compared ivy leaf cough syrup to the drug acetylcysteine. The treatments were roughly equivalent in adults and children with bronchitis.

Some research suggests ivy leaf may also help alleviate symptoms of asthma and lung inflammation due to staph infection (Staphylococcus aureus).

Researchers have noted that side effects from ivy leaf were rare or absent.

Traditional Uses

The ancient Greeks used ivy to treat inflammation and pain. In folk medicine, ivy leaf was used for treating warts.

Inflammation and Arthritis

Several studies have shown ivy leaf can lower inflammation in arthritis and other conditions:

  • A 2019 lab study found anti-inflammatory actions suggesting uses beyond respiratory illnesses.
  • A 2020 lab study found properties that could make it useful for osteoarthritis.
  • Another 2020 study on tissue samples showed it could relieve inflammation from the breast condition mastitis.
  • An earlier animal study reported significant anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritis effects.

Researchers have yet to move into human studies for inflammation and inflammatory illnesses.

Less-Supported Uses

Although the science is insufficient to support it, ivy leaf has been used to treat:

Recap

The leaf of the English ivy plant appears to have numerous medicinal qualities. The best researched ones so far are as a cough treatment and anti-inflammatory. More research is needed into these and other uses.

How It Works

The exact way ivy leaf works isn't known. Experts say it may open up the bronchi (air passages in the lung) by stimulating glands to secrete fluid. This helps break up mucus so you can cough it up.

The herb is also known to contain saponins, compounds thought to prevent bronchial spasms.  Saponins are also known to improve gut health and fight bacteria.

Ivy leaf also has been shown to alter the activity of immune-system substances and cells that trigger inflammation.

Possible Side Effects

Possible side effects that have been known to occur from the use of ivy leaf include:

Allergic Reactions

Direct contact with ivy leaf may cause a rash. Other allergic reactions may include:

  • Hives or welts
  • Swelling of the lips, face, or eyes
  • Tingling of the mouth
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting

If you have any of these symptoms, stop using ivy leaf and call your doctor.

Serious Allergic Symptoms

Ivy leaf may cause a serious allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the throat or tongue
  • Wheezing, coughing
  • Dizziness that does not go away
  • Collapsing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Constriction of the throat
  • Problems talking (hoarse voice)

Anaphylactic shock is a medical emergency. Call 911 or get to a hospital right away.

Contraindications

Contraindications are situations and/or conditions in which a specific treatment is dangerous. Ivy leaf should not be taken by:

  • Children under age 2: It could worsen breathing problems or cause severe nausea and vomiting.
  • People allergic to it: This includes ivy leaf and other plants in the Araliaceae family.
  • Pregnant people: It contains small amounts of emetine, which can cause uterine contractions.
  • Breastfeeding people: Talk to your doctor about the safety of ivy leaf during lactation.

Drug Interactions

No interactions have been reported between ivy leaf and other supplements and drugs. Still, it's important to discuss anything you take with your doctor and/or pharmacist.

Ivy leaf syrup

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Buying organic ivy leaf products ensures it's free of pesticides and chemical processing. 

Avoid the temptation to pick your own ivy leaves to use medicinally. It’s safer to use a commercial preparation made for this purpose. They're sterilized and have a specific strength and dosage. 

If you do harvest your own, make sure you can tell it from poison ivy, which is common in many areas of the United States.

Ivy leaf can be prepared as a:

  • Liquid
  • Dry powder
  • Soft extract

Ivy leaf can also be made into a topical ointment. It's sometimes combined with other herbs for various uses.

English ivy is found in Europe, temperate climates of Asia, and many areas of the U.S. It has green leaves and blooms with small clusters of yellowish-green flowers. Small deep purple berries ripen in the spring.

Dosage

Although specific dosage recommendations aren't established, some herbal experts suggest:

  • Herbal tea: 1 heaping teaspoon of ivy leaf to 8.5 ounces hot water (steeped 10 minutes)
  • Infusion: 1 heaping teaspoonful to 1/4 cup boiling water (steeped 10 minutes)
  • Poultice: Mix fresh ivy leaves in a ratio of 1-to-3 with linseed meal.

You should be able to find dosage recommendations on product labels as well.

What Is a Poultice?

A poultice is a moist mass of plant material applied to the body and kept in place with a cloth. An ivy leaf poultice can be used to relieve pain and inflammation.

Frequently Asked Questions

How safe is ivy leaf?

Ivy leaf has been approved for safe use against chronic (long-term) inflammatory bronchial conditions by the German Commission E monograph. Many studies report few or no side effects. It is not for everyone, however. For example, it should not be used by pregnant women.

What is the European approval process for natural supplements like ivy leaf?

To get natural supplements approved in Europe, you have to submit an application to a regulating agency including scientific findings on safety and effectiveness.

The regulating agencies are the equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Is ivy leaf safe for use in infants?

No, the safety of ivy leaf used in children under 2 isn't well established. It's also known to cause vomiting and other side effects in babies.

Talk to your pediatrician before using it in young children.

Summary

Ivy leaf has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. In modern medicine, evidence suggests it may help with respiratory illnesses and inflammation. Side effects and allergic reactions are possible.

You may hear of other uses for ivy leaf, but know that there is not enough evidence to support them.

You can take ivy leaf as a tea, infusion, poultice, or in other commercially available forms.

A Word From Verywell

Natural products like ivy leaf have a certain appeal, but remember that they can be dangerous. As with anything medicinal, talk to your doctor about ivy leaf before you use it and watch for side effects.

Don't try ivy leaf in place of standard treatments. With where scientific knowledge stands right now, it's most reasonable to consider it an add-on for when other products aren't working well enough.

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