Ground Ivy--Glechoma hederaceae.

Ground Ivy belongs to the family Lamiaceae and the Order Lamiales {Mint family }.

It has several other common names, such as gill-over-the-ground, creeping charley, cat'sfoot {because of the shape and size of the foliage } field balm, run-away-robin and alehoof. Before the introduction of hops, and particularly during the Anglo-Saxon period it was extensively used to clarify and flavour ale hence its alternative name of alehoof.

The plant is toxic if ingested in large amounts either fresh or in hay, and there are records of poisoning in England affecting horses, however, it does not seem to affect other grazing animals, as they seem to avoid its bitter taste.

The high iron content make the top growth a useful addition to the compost heap.the whole plant possesses a balsamic odour and an aromatic, bitter taste due to its volatile oil.  It is a plant of woodland rides and clearings, waste ground, summer banks, and along hedgerows, especially in damp situations.

Components of ground ivy.

Public domain Wikipedia.Illustration Glechoma hederacea0.jpg

Description of the Ground Ivy

Ground Ivy is one of our most common species of wild flora. It delights to grow on banks and waste places throughout our green and pleasant land. The rootstock is perennial throwing out long,trailing, unbranched stems which root at intervals and bear kidney shaped leaves of a dark green colour, somewhat downy with many celled hairs, and, having regular rounded indentations on the margins.

The foliage is stalked and arranged opposite to each other, the under sides are paler and dotted with fine glands which may best be seen with the aid of a magnifying glass { hand lense}. The runners are also leafy. the foliage remains green throughout the year unless the frost is very severe

The flowers arranged three or four together in the axils of the upper leaves which often have a purplish tint. The flowers are two lipped. of a bright purplish blue or pink with small white spots on the lower lip {some times pink}. The flower colour may also be pink or much more rarely white. 

They open in early April and continue to flower for the greater part of summer and even into autumn.The flowers are 1.5-2 cm ,To 2 cm long. They have a characteristic pungent mint like scent. The calyx is 4.7 mm long, hairy and with 5 teeth. The fruit are four nutlets which abide in the persistent calyx.

Studies have revealed that an average plant may produce 100 seeds. However, establishment from seed is rare in any habitat due to bad germination rates. The regeneration is primarily vegeative, by means of the runners. new roots form at the nodes along the runners in the same manner as those of the strawberry plant.  The shoots persist for one season. The plant over winters as a two-leaved shoot or as an 8-10 leaved rosette.

The spread by this means is rapid; ground ivy forms patches and in this way trespasses among other herbage, often to their detriment. Runners can be up to 70 cm long but are usually shorter than this.

Ground Ivy Flower

Courtesy of Frank Vincentz { Creative commons attribution}

Historical Medicinal uses

In days gone by the Latin name for the plant was Hedera terrestris { hedera meaning ivy} + terrestris meaning of the earth [ground}. John Gerard in his book " Of the Historie of Plantes" published in 1644 states;--" grounde ivie is a low base herbe, it creepeth and spreads upon the ground hither and thither all about" he also states " ground ivie is also called alehoofe, gill-go-by-ground, tune hoofe, and cat's-foot. ground ivie is hot and dry and is commended against the humming noyse in the ear and ringing sound of the ears, being put into them, and for them that are hard of hearing."

" ground ivie, celandine and daisies, of each a like quanity, stamped and strained, and a little sugar and rose water put thereto and dropped with a feather into the eies, taketh away all manner of inflammations, spots, webs, itch, smarting or any griefe whatsoever in the eies,. this has worked even though the sight were nigh hand gone.It is proved to be the best medicine in the world; boyled in mutton broth it help weake and aking backes"

Later Culpeper in his book " The Vegetable Kingdom " {Complete modern Herbal} he states; " A singular herb for all inward wounds, ulcerated lungs or other parts either by itself, or boiled with other like herbs and being drank, in a short time easeth all griping pains, windy and choleric humours in the stomach, spleen or belly.; helps the yellow jaundice by opening the stoppings of the gall and liver, and melancholy, by opening the stoppings of the spleen; expelleth venom or poisons, and also the plague.

" The decoction of the it in wine drank for some time together procureth ease in sciatica, or hip gout, as also the gout in the hands, knees or feet.;if you put to the decoction some honey and a little burnt alum, it is excellent to gargle any sore mouth or throat, and to wash the sores and ulcers in man or woman; it speedily heals green wounds being bruised and bound thereto" 

And finally an extract from the Useful Family Herbal  Published in1755; " " it is an excellent vulnerary, outwardly or inwardly used. A conserve may be made in spring. And it may be given by way of tea. It is excellent in all disorders of the breast and lungs, and those in the kidnies, and against bloody and foul urine "

Ground ivy in full bloom.

Courtesy of Rasbak CC BY-SA 3,0 License.Glechoma hederacea, Hondsdraf (1).jpgC

Modern day uses of ground ivy

The active ingredients include bitters,tannins, essential oils, saporins, organic acid and Vitamin C.Ground ivy  cleanses the blood is a tonic and diuretic and used to treat cystitis, gastritis and kidney stone. The leaves are said to reduce inflammations.

For loss of appetite, diarrhoea, coughs and as an expectorant an infusion was taken. It was recommended that 250ml of boiling water be poured over 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the herb and let it infuse for five minutes. It was taken in doses of 3 cups per day.

The whole flowering plant was harvested.  It is also used for the following afflictions, bruises, catarrh, earache, and blocked noses.

The fresh or dried herb for infusions to treat colds, coughs and chesty phlegm.

FORAGERS-- gather the foliage which is then dried to make herbal tea. { slightly fragrant } 

Note* Anyone trying herbs for the first time in medicinal or for culinary purposes is well advised to read Wild Herb Advise. 

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Nettles for food and medicine.

Natures pharmacy.

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