Ballota hirsuta (Horehound)

Ballota hirsuta, commonly called horehound, is a clump-forming evergreen shrub. It has pretty grey-green woolly leaves and whorls of small two-lipped crimson flowers which bloom throughout the summer.

Ballota is a tough, drought-tolerant plant native to the Mediterranean basin, specifically Portugal and Spain.

This shrub can be trimmed into a compact ball, making it an attractive structure plant for dry gardens.

Quick Overview


Type Shrub


Ballota hirsuta (horehound) height and width


Ballota hirsuta (horehound) bloom time


full sun


hardiness (-10ºC / 14º F)


drought tolerance aprox 5 months


origin mediterranean basin

Horehound scientific name

  • Botanical name:  Ballota hirsuta (bal-LOT-uh Hir-SU-ta)
  • Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Horehound
BallotaMeans little ball
hirsutaThe Latin word for hairy, which refers to the soft hairy leaves of this plant.

How to identify Balotta hirsuta

Ballota hirsuta shrub (horehound)


A soft-hairy evergreen shrub, with upright to decumbant stems. It has a natural clump form that can be shaped into a round compact ball if trimmed after flowering.

The shrub can grow up to 60cm (24 in) and spread out to 60cm (24 in) after 2 to 5 years


Ballota hirsuta stem (horehound)


The stems are square-shaped and densely haired which gives them a greyish-white colour.

They have opposite, simple leaves, with long internodes between each set of leaves.

After each set of leaves is an inflorescence composed of dense whorls of many tiny flowers.

The length of each stem varies between 24 cm and 60 cm (9 in and 24 in).

Ballota hirsuta leaf (front and back view)


The grey-green leaves are simple, toothed, soft and hairy. They are very soft to the touch, and the hairs catch drops of rain or dew, giving them a very attractive look.

They have a heart shape with a length that varies between 18 and 25 mm ( 0.7 – 1 in).


Ballota hirsuta flower (horehound)


The tiny flowers are grouped in dense whorls around the stem.

Each flower is 2 lipped with a concave upper lip. It has 5 united petals, two on the upper lip and 3 on the lower lip.

Inside the corolla are 4 stamens with one pair longer than the other and one pistil placed between them.

The petals are crimson with white stripes.

The female flower size is around 13 to 18 mm (0.5 to 0.7 in) long.

Ballota hirsuta calyx


The calyx is funnel/shaped and has ten teeth or more instead of the characteristic 5 of other species of the Ballota genus.

After flowering, the cup-shaped calyxes persist all summer on the inflorescences.

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Ballota hirsuta Usage


Ballota hirsuta is a very decorative plant that can be shaped into a round dense ball when it is pruned (ideally after flowering).

It can also be grown as a ground cover, forming a spreading clump.

Being evergreen, it is a good choice for a structure plant in your garden.


Ballota hirsuta leaves have been used in traditional medicine to treat health conditions such as hypertension, fungal infections and skin diseases (source). 

Other Uses

The calyces can be used as wicks for oil lamps. The calyx is placed on the surface of the oil, which can then be lit up once it becomes saturated with oil.

How to plant Ballota hirsuta

Ballota hirsuta is a low maintenance drought tolerant plant that can grow in any region with a Mediterranean-type climate. But it can also grow in temperate, desert or subtropical climates as long as it has the necessary conditions. 

It is a relatively hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to -10ºC (14ºF), but if it is subject to low temperatures for long periods, it will die and can only be used as an annual plant.

Despite being a very tough plant, it cannot tolerate two conditions: heavy wet soil and full shade. So when choosing a place to plant your Ballota, ensure it is in full sun and has poor and very well-drained soil.

The best time to plant this shrub is at the beginning of spring for colder regions or the beginning of autumn for warmer regions.

How to water Ballota hirsuta

Ballota hirusta is a drought-tolerant plant and does not thrive in humid climates. It does not need any water once it is established.

During the first two years after planting, you will need to water the young Ballota hirsuta every two to three weeks during the summer. 

When watering it, you need to do it abundantly, giving the soil a generous soak so the water can penetrate deeply into the soil to allow the roots to grow deeply. 

Additionally, you should add mulch around your Ballota hirsuta (but not too close to the base) to help it conserve moisture. Wood chips are good for mulching.

How to prune Ballota hirsuta

Pruning should be done in autumn after the flowers dry out. Prune back hard to encourage fresh growth and give the desired shape.

How to propagate Ballota hirsuta

Ballota hirsuta can be propagated by taking semi-ripe cuttings in mid-summer. Take cuttings from lateral shoots, stick them in the rooting compost with equal parts of peat and sand, and place them in a cold frame until the following spring, when they can be planted in the garden.

You can also propagate by seeds sown in spring or early fall.

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