Common ivy, also known as English ivy or just plain ivy, has a long history as a medicinal and ornamental plant. It was associated with Bacchus, the Roman deity of revelry and fruitfulness. Ancient Greeks used ivy in wedding ceremonies, and Hedera helix, the vine's scientific name, comes from Greek origins. The woody vines and evergreen leaves of common ivy are a familiar sight on buildings and walls in modern times.

Though it's often disliked and removed for its highly invasive and damaging tendencies in non-native areas, common ivy is valued for health benefits and potential medicinal uses as well.

Relieves Congestion

Various chemical components in ivy leaf extracts, including saponins, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds, affect the respiratory system. Ivy leaf extracts are often used in European cough and cold medicines because they function as expectorants, helping reduce congestion by thinning and loosening mucus so it can be expelled more easily.

Ivy leaves contain chemical molecules called saponins that stimulate mucous glands and liquefy mucus in the throat, lungs, and bronchial passages. Saponins also have an antitussive effect, which means they suppress coughing.

A woman blowing her nose with a tissue



Asthma and COPD

In addition to expectorant and antitussive properties, common ivy extracts can also have spasmolytic and bronchodilatory effects. These agents relax the smooth muscle in bronchial tubes and help open and expand airways. Their effects may be very beneficial for people with asthma, COPD, and other respiratory conditions involving narrow, hardened, or inflamed bronchioles.

Woman breathing fresh air in forest



Common ivy may relieve inflammation associated with a variety of illnesses and injuries.

People with arthritis or gout may benefit from ivy teas and other oral preparations. Ivy ointments, creams, or poultices can be applied topically to relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness. Topical administration works best for inflamed joints or injuries such as strains, sprains, and pulled muscles.

Elderly woman putting ointment on her hands



Ivy leaf poultices were used to treat wounds and burns in the past due to the plant's antibacterial and antifungal properties. Although we have many medications to treat and prevent infection in modern times, it's good to have as many options as possible. Topical ivy leaf preparations may protect minor scrapes, cuts and burns from infection. The antimicrobial properties of ivy leaf in oral medications are also potentially beneficial in cases of pneumonia, sinusitis and other respiratory infections.

Hand applying ointment to knee abrasion of toddler



Common ivy extracts are used to treat parasitic infections in some parts of the world. Antiparasitic medications aren't always available in places where such infections are common. When they are, the medications may cause serious side effects, so an herbal treatment alternative is very advantageous. Ivy extracts may be effective against some illnesses caused by protozoa, as well.

A 3D image of Microfilaria worm in blood


Liver Protection

Liver damage isn't a rare diagnosis. The liver is responsible for removing most toxins from our bodies. Certain over-the-counter medications can cause severe liver damage at high doses, so there's plenty of opportunities for damage to occur. Antioxidants and other chemically active compounds in common ivy may offer some protection for the liver and mitigate toxic effects of certain medications.

A doctor holding a liver model



Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the most common types of cardiovascular disease. Common ivy can help manage blood pressure in several ways. Some compounds in the plant have vasorelaxant properties that reduce tension in blood vessel walls. The heart doesn't have to work as hard to keep blood circulating within relaxed blood vessels.

Anti-inflammatory properties of common ivy may reduce or prevent inflammation, and subsequent damage, of endothelial cells lining interior blood vessel walls.

Nurse measuring blood pressure



Research concerning common ivy leaves discovered cytotoxic properties in methanolic leaf extracts. Cytotoxic refers to an ability to kill cancer cells or stop them from multiplying.

Further studies identified a phenolic compound as the source of this effect. Further research is needed to find out how effective common ivy may be against different types of cancer. Some people take common ivy supplements along with traditional treatments for cancer, but this should never be done without the supervising doctor's approval.

Colorful awareness ribbons and stethoscope


Air Quality

A NASA study once suggested that houseplants, including common ivy, could remove some types of pollutants from the air. Many plants were evaluated, but ivy was found to be especially helpful for removing formaldehyde. Surprisingly, plant roots and the surrounding soil were responsible for most filtration.

However, further studies and reviews cast doubt on air purification claims. Growing common ivy inside your home can improve aesthetics and produce more oxygen, but you shouldn't rely on any houseplant for air purification.

Pot with Ivy plant on wooden drawer shelves with decor


Adverse Effects

Although ivy extracts are often seen as natural medicine, this doesn't mean ivy is always harmless. Some people may experience side effects including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Allergic reactions, such as hives, itching, or rash, may occur as well. Serious adverse reactions are rare.

Ivy leaves contain a substance called emetine that isn't recommended during pregnancy. Use caution while handling ivy plants because immature berries on vines may be toxic for people and animals.

Woman scratching her arm


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