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You might be surprised to learn that English ivy, a plant you’ve likely seen growing up the outside wall of some buildings, can be used as an herbal supplement. It can also be grown indoors as a houseplant.

The potential benefits of English ivy include air purification, improved respiratory (breathing) issues, and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Read on to find out more about English ivy and its potential health benefits.

Also known as common ivy or Hedera helix, English ivy is a climbing evergreen plant can thrive in cold and low light situations. You’ve probably seen it growing up the walls of old buildings before (1).

Many people like the plant because it stays green all year and makes an attractive ground cover for decorative gardens.

The plant originally comes from Europe, but can now be found across the United States and the world. English ivy thrives in shady areas in forest clearings as well as on cliffs and slopes where the soil is fertile and moist (1, 2).

Aside from ornamentation, the English ivy also offers some potential health benefits. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and it has been used as an herbal medicine to help treat (3):

Some of the potential benefits of English ivy include its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action, as well as its effects on upper respiratory conditions.

Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties

English ivy is rich in polyphenols, or plant compounds, called saponins and flavonoids. These compounds provide a host of potential benefits (4).

Most notably, they are potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.

In one animal study, researchers noted that extract of English ivy offered a protective effect against diabetes in rats, likely due to its antioxidant effect — which allows it to prevent oxidative damage to the cells (5).

Additionally, one test-tube study noted the anti-inflammatory effects of ivy leaf extract in human lung cells. A similar study noted that ivy leaf extract helped inhibit the release of the inflammatory marker interleukin-6 from mice immune cells (6, 7).

However, more research is needed to understand how ivy affects inflammation and antioxidant activity in humans.

May help with cough

Much of the existing research on English ivy is related to its effects on the upper respiratory system. In particular, ivy may be useful for the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, cough in children, and COPD — although stronger evidence is needed before it can be widely recommended.

Alone or in combination with the herbs primrose and thyme, ivy may offer some relief for cough in upper respiratory infections and colds (3, 8).

Ivy for cough may be particularly useful for children, since many health professionals recommend limiting traditional cough medication use in young children. One study noted that ivy leaf offered comparable benefits to acetylcysteine, a powerful antioxidant (9).

In another study in over 5,000 children with productive cough who received ivy leaf extract twice daily, researchers found that their parents reported the ivy leaf helped significantly. About two-thirds of parents said that they were very satisfied with the therapeutic effect of the ivy leaf on their child’s cough (10).

Regardless, one large review of trials reported that, while ivy leaf was safe to use for cough, its effects were minimal (11).

English ivy’s effects on the lungs and in cough prevention may be related to its anti-inflammatory action.

However, ivy also appears to activate the beta2-adrenergic signaling system in the body, which prompts the release of epinephrine. Epinephrine, among its many effects, is a bronchodilator — meaning it widens the bronchi and bronchioles (structures within the lungs), allowing for increased air flow (12).

May help improve air quality

When kept indoors as a houseplant, English ivy may also help with air purification. In fact, English ivy is one of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) top 10 air-purifying plants (13).

However, ivy may not be the best houseplant choice if you have pets or children, as contact with the plant can cause a skin rash (14, 15).

Additionally, in large open spaces it’s unlikely to make a huge difference in air quality. An air purifier may be a wise investment if you’re worried about indoor air quality.

As an indoor or outdoor plant, English ivy can cause contact dermatitis — an allergic skin rash. Some people have noticed this reaction after trimming back ivy while landscaping or gardening (14, 15).

Some people report that ingesting English ivy could cause side effects like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea — however, research is sparse and these side effects haven’t been detailed in recent studies.

Because there is so little information about the safety of English ivy, you should exercise caution when using it as a dietary supplement or herbal medicine.

Although one small study has found that ingesting ivy leaf extract is safe during pregnancy, you should speak with a healthcare professional before taking it if you’re pregnant or nursing (16).

English ivy planted outdoors makes an excellent ground cover and looks very attractive when growing up the outer walls of structures. It may even help insulate structures against cold temperatures, but you’ll need to do regular maintenance to keep the ivy from taking over (17).

Indoors, English ivy can be kept as an air-purifying houseplant. It doesn’t need tons of direct light, so it’s ideal for growing indoors unless you have children or pets who may touch it or try to eat it.

As a supplement, you can purchase ivy extract capsules. It is also available in tea form. Additionally, non-prescription ivy leaf cough syrups are available to purchase online.

There are no official dosing guidelines, so be sure to follow the directions on the product packaging, or moderate your intake to only 1 or 2 cups (240 or 480 ml) of tea or a loose handful of fresh ivy leaves as needed.

Don’t ingest ivy leaf if it causes allergic symptoms like atopic dermatitis when you touch it, and be sure to speak with your healthcare professional before you add English ivy to your routine.

English ivy is an evergreen plant that offers some surprising benefits. As a houseplant, it may help to purify the air.

When ingested, some research suggests that it may provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. In addition, it appears to be useful in reducing cough related to colds and viral infections.

However, it may cause allergic reactions in some people, and little is known about its safety when used as a supplement.

Overall, more human research is needed to understand more about the benefits of English ivy as an herbal remedy.