3 Herb Mamas

Wednesday’s Weeds: GROUND IVY

on April 23, 2014

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Ground Ivy (Glecoma hederacea)

Other delightful common names include Alehoof, Cat’s Foot or Cat’s Paw, Gill-Over-the-Ground, Haymaids, Turn-hoof, Hedgemaids, Lizzy-Run-Up-the-Hedge, Robin-Run-in-the-Hedge, and Creeping Charlie.

It’s the time when some new plant species is making it’s first appearance of the year nearly every day. I won’t be able to keep up with a post a day or I’ll end up indoors all summer. Instead, I’ll make it a goal to post one wild plant each Wednesday. Many are primary food, some are medicinal plants, and others are simply integral to the overall ecosystem even if they are not primarily useful to humans. This could easily be a starting point for learning the common plants around your home and neighborhood. By the time the first frost hits at least 25 plants will have been presented. Taking the time once a week to go outside, identify, maybe gather a little and either prepare something using that week’s plant or even just drawing, pressing or studying the details (and learning some botanical terminology in the process) will serve as an enjoyable introduction to the science and art of wild-crafting.

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This is a Ground Ivy specimen I gathered this morning just outside my front door, where it forms a nice ground cover, along with Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis) and a little Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis), around the base of a Cherry tree. You can study it to learn some of the botanical terms used to describe this plant. Learning and applying these terms is a FAR more accurate way to identify a plant than looking a color photos or line drawings alone. The leaves of Ground Ivy are opposite and stalked and the plant root is perennial. The plant forms long, trailing, unbranched square stems (a trait of Mint, or Lamiaceae, family plants), which root at intervals and bear numerous, kidney-shaped leaves of dark green and are somewhat downy with regular rounded indentations on the margins. The flowers are purplish-blue and two lipped with small white spots on the lower lip blooming from April throughout the summer. It is a low-growing plant and you can get a sense of the scale in the photo above. (By the way, BOTANY IN A DAY by Thomas J. Elpel is a great place to begin learning hands on botany but most field guides provide definitions and line drawings of the basic terminology in the front and back cover pages.)

The scent of the plant is balsamic and pleasant, the taste bitter. Due to this bitterness, Ground Ivy is most often used as a tincture, that is, extracted and preserved in alcohol. Historically, it was the principal plant used by early Saxons up until the time of Henry VIII to clarify beer before Hops was introduced according to M. Grieve in A MODERN HERBAL. It improved the flavor, keeping quality and clarity. Interestingly, the term “gill”, as in Gill-Over-the-Ground, comes from the French guiller meaning to ferment.

The whole plant can be gathered in May when the flowers are at their peak and tinctured for use later. The plant’s actions are diuretic, mildly astringent, tonic and gently stimulantM. Grieve says it is useful in kidney and digestive disorders, for coughs and nervous headaches. Useful in pulmonary complaints where a kidney tonic is called for. The expressed fresh juice is diaphoretic, diuretic, and astringent. Combined with Yarrow and Chamomile, she suggests using it as a poultice for abscesses and tumors. It was traditionally used as a preventive and treatment for lead poisoning (“painter’s colic”) and herbalist David Winston has shared case studies that bear this use out. It has been used for hot, damp respiratory problems. That is, yellow, green or bloody mucous with fever. It increases bile secretions and, combined with Celery seed and Parsley leaf, is said to be effective for treating gouty arthritis.

I’ve eaten leaves of Ground Ivy and tried an infusion of the plant. They are not extremely unpleasant, but then I rather like bitter plants like Dandelion and Yellowdock. I will be gathering and tincturing some this year and experimenting with it a bit more. Only small doses are needed according to my research, in the range of 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. Even if you opt not to use the plant medicinally or in home-brewing, it’s nice to know some of the qualities and attributes of this lovely, little ground cover.

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Some early Ground Ivy creeping along the edge of one of our garden beds.

~Leenie

Words in BOLD are common botanical or herbal terms that it is best to learn and apply. You can look them up in any good herbal, field guide and botany text or use an online dictionary. The site below has a  free complete hyper-text version the classic, A MODERN HERBAL by Mrs. M Grieve, which is a wonderful reference even if it does reflect conventional wisdom of nearly 100 years ago. 

http://botanical.com/

It is my habit to confirm all information about a plant I plan to ingest or use on my own body with at least 3 different sources, not just 3 books by the same author. 


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