The Health Benefits of Ivy Leaf

For The Common Cold, Bronchitis and other Respiratory Conditions

English Ivy (Hedera helix L.) is a common evergreen climbing vine—of the family Araliaceae— that is native to Europe, and temperate climates of Asia. Ivy leaf is plentiful in many areas of the U.S., particularly in shady areas of forests, cliffs, and slopes where the soil is moist.

Ivy has green leaves and it blooms with small clusters of yellowish-green flowers, which appear at the end of its shoots. Small deep purple berries ripen in the spring. The succulent berries are sometimes ingested, and the leaves are used medicinally to reduce inflammation (swelling) and to treat breathing conditions.

Ivy leaves were used by the ancient Greeks for forming wreaths to wear on the forehead. One use was to invoke the Greek god of wine, Bacchus, to prevent the effects of inebriation. Thus, Greeks, including Hippocrates, used ivy to prevent intoxication.

The ancient Greeks also used ivy medicinally, to treat inflammation and as an anesthetic for pain. Ivy was considered a sign of fidelity, so newlyweds were presented with wreaths made of the vine, as a wedding gift.

In folklore medicine, ivy leaf was used for treating benign (non-cancerous) warts. Traditional herbalists use ivy today for numerous conditions including respiratory disorders, arthritis, lice, scabies, dysentery, and more.

Other names for ivy leaf include English ivy, gum ivy, Hedera taurica, Hederae helicis folium, herbes à cors, hiedra común, ivy, lierre, lierre commun, lierre grimpant, true ivy, woodbind.

Health Benefits

Today, the primary benefit of ivy leaf that has been backed by some medical research data, is its anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, helping to treat various types of swelling (inflammation), and for conditions that block the airway passages (such as bronchitis). 

A 2009 study involving 9,657 people (5,181 children) with bronchitis found that preparations of ivy leaf, given by mouth, for 7 days resulted in an improvement in symptoms in 95% of the study participants. In addition, the study found that the safety of ivy leaf therapy was very good with an overall incidence of adverse events of 2.1% (mainly gastrointestinal disorders with 1.5%).”

Ivy leaf is also gaining popularity as a natural cough syrup for kids. In fact, a 2012 study involving 268 children, 0 to 12 years old, discovered that 14 days of treatment with ivy leaf extract (in the form of a cough syrup) was a safe and effective treatment for children with a cough. 

A 2013 animal study published by Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, reported that Hedera helix was been found to have many health benefits including:

  • Antioxidant properties: Helping to remove toxins and protecting the cell from free radical damage
  • Antispasmodic properties: Prevents or lowers the incidence of muscle spasms
  • Antiallergic effects: Relieves or controls allergic symptoms
  • Antitumor activity: Inhibiting the growth of tumors

In addition, the study authors discussed previous studies showing that ivy leaf was effective in treating conditions in children (such as chronic bronchial asthma). But more data is needed to show that ivy leaf is safe and effective for use in humans, including children and adults.

Although there have been insufficient clinical research studies to back up claims of many other benefits of ivy leaf, the herbal supplement has been used to treat conditions such as:

  • Liver and spleen problems
  • Gout
  • Gallbladder conditions
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Wounds and ulcers
  • Skin infections
  • Nerve pain
  • Parasites
  • Warts

How It Works

The exact mechanism of ivy leaf’s action is not fully known, but experts suggest that it may open the air passages of the lung called the bronchi by stimulating bronchial glands to secrete a fluid that is watery in consistency. This helps to break up and expectorate (cough up) mucus.

The herb is also known to contain 5–8% saponins, which are thought to prevent bronchial spasms.  Saponins are also known to improve gut health and fight against bacteria.

Studies

A 2017 report published by the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC), in Europe, states, “The use of ivy leaf medicines as an expectorant [a medication that helps a person to cough up mucus] are based on their ‘well established use’ in this condition.”

The evidence supports the effective, safe use of ivy leaf for at least 10 years. The HMPC utilized several studies using ivy leaf to reduce the severity of cough in adults and to treat children with acute (severe sudden onset) bronchitis.

Possible Side Effects

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

If symptoms become severe or last longer than a week, during the use of ivy leaf, discontinue use and consult with the healthcare provider. 

Allergic Reactions

A skin reaction (such as a rash) from direct contact with ivy leaf is a common side effect. 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 allergic symptoms occur, it’s important to immediately stop using ivy leaf and seek medical care right away. 

Serious Allergic Symptoms

Other symptoms may occur as a result of a serious allergic reaction (called anaphylactic shock) to ivy leaf, these may include;

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

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock are a sign of a medical emergency, a person experiencing any of these symptoms should seek immediate emergency medical intervention.

Contraindications

Contraindications are situations and or conditions in which a specific drug, herbal supplement or treatment should not be used, these include:

  • Ivy leaf should not be used for children under age 2 years old because the supplement could worsen breathing problems or cause severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Ivy leaf should not be taken by those with allergies to ivy leaf or any other plant in the Araliaceae family.
  • Ivy leaf is not recommended during pregnancy because it contains small amounts of emetine, which could cause uterine contractions.
  • Ivy leaf should not be used when breastfeeding unless otherwise approved by the healthcare provider.

Drug Interactions

No interactions have been reported between ivy leaf and other supplements and drugs. But it is important to always discuss using this supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

To ensure a pure product, free of pesticides and chemical processing, always select an organic ivy leaf product. Avoid the temptation to pick ivy leaves off a yard plant for a do-it-yourself home remedy.

It’s safer to use a commercial preparation made for medical use, that has been sterilized, and can be relied upon for an exact concentration/dosage. Those who harvest their own ivy leaf should be careful to differentiate it from poison ivy, which is commonly found in many areas of the United States. 

Ivy leaf can be prepared as a liquid, a dry, powdered form, or as soft extracts. This is done by dissolving the plant in alcohol or another type of solvent, then making it into a liquid form and finally partially or completely drying it to formulate a dry or soft extract form of the herb.

These herbal medicines are usually taken by mouth, but they can be made into a topical ointment to treat skin conditions. Ivy leaf preparations can also be combined with other herbal medicines for various uses.

Dosage

Although there has not been any specific dosage recommendations that are backed by clinical research data, some herbal experts recommend:

  • Herbal tea: 1 heaping teaspoon of ivy leaf to 8.5 ounces hot water; steep the mixture for ten minutes; tea can be taken 3 times per day.
  • Poultice (a moist mass of plant material applied to the body and kept in place with a cloth, used to relieve soreness and inflammation): Mix fresh ivy leaves in a ratio of 1-to-3 with linseed meal.
  • Infusion: 1 heaping teaspoonful to 1/4 cup boiling water, steep for 10 minutes

Healthnotes dosage suggestions include: “Standardized ivy leaf extract can be taken by itself or in water at 25 drops twice per day as a supportive treatment for children with asthma. At least double this amount may be necessary to benefit adults with asthma.”

Do not to substitute ivy leaf (or any other supplement) for standard medical treatment. Consult healthcare professionals before using ivy leaf for any medical condition. When buying a prepared product, always follow the instructions included.

Common 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. A double-blind study (used to prevent bias in research studies) discovered that ivy leaf was as effective as a drug called ambroxol for treating bronchitis (one symptom of COPD).

What is the European process of approval for natural supplements such as ivy leaf medicines?

In Europe, licensing any medicine with ivy leaf must involve submission to the national authorities responsible for medicinal products, considering recent scientific studies on safety and efficacy. This agency would be like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States.

Is ivy leaf safe for use in infants?

No, the safety of ivy leaf used in children under 2 has not been well established. Although some studies involved children from age 1 to age 15, the pediatrician or other healthcare provider should be consulted before use in young children, and particularly for those who are under age 2.

Infants and young children metabolize drugs differently than adults due to many factors such as a difference in body-fat-proportion. Also, infants should not be given ivy leaf because of the risk of vomiting and other side effects.  

A Word From Verywell

Although there is some very strong evidence that ivy leaf is safe and beneficial for the treatment of respiratory disorders—including colds and bronchial spasms in children—there are still some experts who say that more clinical research is needed to prove long-term safety and efficacy.

The study authors involved in a 2011 study, aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of ivy leaf for the treatment of upper respiratory infections, concluded “Considering the popularity of ivy preparations and the considerable expenditure for such remedies, further rigorously designed randomized controlled trials are necessary.”

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