Ivy is an evergreen climber native to the damp woods of western, central, and southern Europe. The leaf is used medicinally. It should be carefully distinguished from poison ivy found in the Americas.
Although ivy's composition has not been subject to detailed scientific investigations, it is known to contain 5-8% saponins. 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. [Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: AB Arcanum, 1985, p.211] Animal studies have shown the saponins found in ivy extract prevent the spasm of muscles in the bronchial area.
While very few human clinical trials have been performed on ivy leaf, it is approved by the German Commission E for use against chronic inflammatory bronchial conditions and productive coughs due to its actions as an expectorant. [Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, p.153] One double-blind human trial found ivy leaf to be as effective as the drug ambroxol for treating the symptoms of chronic bronchitis. [Zeits Allegemeinmed 1993;69: pp.61-6 ]
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. [Giornale Italiano de Dermatologia Venereologia 1993;128; pp.619-24]
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 a cough or bronchitis. At least double this amount may be necessary to benefit adults.
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with ivy leaf.
The 0.3gm daily tea preparation of the herb, suggested in the German Commission E monographs, 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. In addition, the leaf itself can be quite irritating when handled and may cause allergic skin reactions.
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. [Münch Med Wschr 1998;140: pp.32-6] However, the incidence of cough and shortness of breath symptoms did not change during the short trial period.
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. [Giornale Italiano de Dermatologia Venereologia 1993;128; pp.619-24] At least double this amount may be necessary to benefit adults with asthma.