If ground ivy were on a Most Wanted poster, It would have many aliases: Gill-over-the-Ground, Creeping Charlie or Creeping Jenny, Alehoof, Haymaids, Lizzy-run-up-the-Hedge, Cat’s foot, Robin-run-in-the-Hedge, to name just a few. A member of the Labiatae family, Glechoma hederacea has the classic square stem (often covered in short, bristly backward pointing hairs) of those in the mint family. It is often misidentified as a speedwell or common mallow. A vigorous (and I do mean vigorous) herbaceous perennial with lovely scalloped, kidney shaped leaves of dark green, ground ivy grows by trailing runners, some as long as 36 inches. Its delicate pixie-like blue to purplehued funnel shaped flowers bloom from March through late summer. You will find it growing in shade or semi shade, in the woods, in ditches or along roadsides. The fragrance is that of a mint, heady and balsamic. Surely there is nothing disdainful about the cooling scent of mint on a hot summer day.
Ground ivy has a strong connection with the powers of magic and divination. Considered a safeguard against sorcery, it was worn by milkmaids when first milking cows in the pastures. In many regions the first milking of the cows was actually done through a wreath of ground ivy. Other magical uses of ground ivy included promoting sleep, meditation, healing, love, friendship and fidelity. The ritual use of ground ivy was popular and the herb was often woven into crowns and garlands to be worn on Midsummer’s Eve. A tea made from the dried leaves and flowers may be sipped to help overcome shyness. Strewing leaves of this herb about the floors of your home is said to promote serenity and peaceful dreams.
To Pluck or Not to Pluck
Yes, that one little plant that you are so quick to pluck out had all those uses. And, as I write this, ground ivy is being studied for use in preventing leukemia, bronchitis, hepatitis and various cancers and HIV. Did you know that ground ivy acts as a dense groundcover and keeps the soil from eroding? The lovely blue flowers attract bees and butterflies. It will also grow where nothing else will and it stays green nearly all year long. I dare you to go outside and roll in a patch of it this summer, deeply inhaling the tart balsamic scent and not smile. Did I forget to mention that it eases depression? Did I forget to mention that it is free? Okay, so perhaps you don’t need to pull out all of it. Why not find a place where you can let some of it grow freely. Ease yourself into trying a few leaves in your salad, or drinking a cup of tea as a Spring tonic.
If you celebrate Beltane, weave some stems and flowers into your crown. Pick an alias name for it that appeals to you—my personal favorite is Gill-over-the Ground. Repeat it several times until it rolls nicely off your tongue and sounds almost exotic. And, if you must pluck some of it, at least stop and pay homage to the myriad uses of it throughout time. Ground ivy, a small herb with great determination!
Kathy Turcotte is a herbalist. She writes from her home in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, US. A regular contributor to Herb Quarterly magazine, you can read more about her work at enchantedwoodmusings.blogspot.com.