Parts used and where grown: Ivy is an evergreen climber native to the damp woods of western, central, and southern Europe. The leaf is used medicinally.1 It should be carefully distinguished from poison ivy found in the Americas.
Ivy has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Stretch marks (topical)
Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
An herb is primarily supported by traditional use, or the herb or supplement has little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies): Ivy leaves were held in high regard by the ancients. They formed not only the poet’s crown but also the wreath of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. The ancient Greeks believed that binding the forehead with ivy leaves would prevent the effects of inebriation.2 Greek priests presented a wreath of ivy to newlyweds, and ivy has been traditionally regarded as a symbol of fidelity. Romans regarded ivy as excellent feed for their cattle.3 Traditional herbalists have used ivy for a wide number of complaints, including bronchitis, whooping cough, arthritis, rheumatism, and dysentery. Decoctions of the herb were applied externally against lice, scabies, and sunburn.4
Active constituents: Although ivy’s composition has not been subject to detailed scientific investigations, it is known to contain 5–8% saponins.5 Other constituents in the leaf include an alkaloid called emetine that is similar to one found in the herb tylophora. Although emetine typically induces vomiting, in ivy leaf it seems to increase the secretion of mucus in the lungs. While the emetine content is very low in ivy, this could in part explain its traditional use as an expectorant (a substance that promotes the removal of mucous from the respiratory tract).6 Animal studies have shown the saponins found in ivy extract prevent the spasm of muscles in the bronchial area.7
While very few human clinical trials have been performed on ivy, a controlled trial in a group of children with bronchial asthma found that 25 drops of ivy leaf extract given twice per day was effective in improving airflow into the lungs after only three days of use.8 However, the incidence of cough and shortness of breath symptoms did not change during the short trial period. Ivy leaf is approved by the German Commission E for use against chronic inflammatory bronchial conditions and productive coughs due to its actions as an expectorant.9 One double-blind human trial found ivy leaf to be as effective as the drug ambroxol for treating the symptoms of chronic bronchitis.10
In addition to the use of ivy to treat asthma, clinical reports from Europe suggest that topical cream preparations containing ivy, horsetail, and lady’s mantle are beneficial in reducing, although not eliminating, skin stretch marks.11
How much is usually taken? 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.12 At least double this amount may be necessary to benefit adults with asthma. However, ivy is not intended to replace standard medical therapies and should only be used following consultation with a healthcare professional. A similar amount can be used for people with a cough or bronchitis.
Are there any side effects or interactions? The 0.3 gram daily tea preparation of the herb, suggested in the German Commission E monographs,13 is not recommended for pediatric use because the quantities of the saponins it contains are too variable and could induce nausea and vomiting. Since ivy contains small amounts of emetine, it is not recommended during pregnancy, as this specific alkaloid may increase uterine contractions.14 In addition, the leaf itself can be quite irritating when handled and may cause allergic skin reactions.15
1. Wren RC. Potter’s New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparation. Essex, England: CW Daniel Co. 1985, 155.
2. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal vol II. New York: Dover Publications, 1982, 441.
3. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal vol II. New York: Dover Publications, 1982, 441.
4. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 252.
5. Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. Paris, France: Technique and Documentation-Lavoisier, 1995, 560.
6. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: AB Arcanum, 1985, 211.
7. Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. Paris, France: Technique and Documentation-Lavoisier, 1995, 560.
8. Mansfeld HJ, Höhre H, Repges R, Dethlefsen U. Therapy of bronchial asthma with dried ivy leaf extract. Münch Med Wschr 1998;140:32–6.
9. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 153.
10. Meyer-Wegner J. Ivy versus ambroxol in chronic bronchitis. Zeits Allegemeinmed 1993;69:61–6 [in German].
11. Rigoni C, Scarabelli G, Spinelli G, et al. Results of clinical research about a topical compound with a basis of Alchemilla vulgaris, Hedera helix and Equisetum arvense in Striae cutis distensae. Giornale Italiano de Dermatologia Venereologia 1993;128;619–24.
12. Rigoni C, Scarabelli G, Spinelli G, et al. Results of clinical research about a topical compound with a basis of Alchemilla vulgaris, Hedera helix and Equisetum arvense in Striae cutis distensae. Giornale Italiano de Dermatologia Venereologia 1993;128;619–24.
13. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 153.
14. Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, 2nd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1998, 86.
15. Garcia M, Fernandez E, Navarro JA, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis from Hedera helix L. Contact Dermatitis 1995;33:133–4.
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The information presented in VitaminLore Online is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over-the-counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2006.