Family: Labiatae, or mint
Synonyms and Common names: gill-over-the-ground, creeping Charlie, alehoof, tunhoof, catsfoot, field balm, and run-away robi.
Description and Habitat:
Ground ivy originated in Europe and is currently distributed all over Europe and Asia.
Today Ground Ivy can be found in field margins, and roadsides, from the South to the North of the British Isles. It can also be found in waste areas, ditches, pastures, orchards, open woods, agricultural fields, and is especially considered to be a pest in some ornamental gardens, especially in lawns. Ground ivy thrives in damp, rich soils and shady places but will grow in full sun.
Ground ivy is a perennial, with creeping stems that sprawl over the soil surface, forming a thick mat, and crowding out other plants. Ground ivy has a typical mint-like appearance, with square stems and 2 leaves at each node. It can be distinguished by its sprawling growth, kidney-shaped leaves that have scalloped edges, and which attach to stems by way of long leaf stalks.
Although the plant produces seed, the principal method of reproduction is by way of its creeping stems.
Ground ivy produces numerous slender stems, that creep along the soil surface growing up to 30 inches long, and forming a tangled mat. At the axils of stems are hairy, upright flower stalks that generally do not grow more than 8 inches tall. And roots form at nearly every node.
Flowers are 1/2 to 1 inch long and purplish-blue. They consist of 5 petals united into a 2-lipped tube consisting of an upper lip with 2 shallow lobes and a lower lip with 3 larger lobes. Flowers are located in whorls of 2 or 6 in upper leaf axils on short, upright stalks formed at the nodes of creeping stems. The flowers are purple-blue in colour.
Parts used: aerial parts.
Collection and preparation: its flower stems complete with flowers, should be collected in mid-spring to early summer. They should be dried hanging up in a dark, dry place until dry, and then placed into sealed containers and kept in a dark, dry cupboard.
Constituents: Bitter, tannin, volatile oil, resin, and saponin.
Actions: Anti-catarrhal, astringent, expectorant diuretic, vulnerary, and stimulant.
Indications and Therapeutics:
Ground Ivy may be used to treat catarrhal conditions whether in the sinus region or in the chest. It will aid in the healing of coughs and bronchitis but works better if combined with other remedies.
Where the catarrh has built up, Ground Ivy can prove most beneficial. The astringency of the herb help in the treatment of diahrrea and haemorrhoids. It may also be used to treat cystitis.
Ground Ivy is a drying and draining herb, which acts on the mucosa and lymphatic channels of the ear nose and throat. When these fluids get backed up and stuck, this can impair the work of the immune system in the local area and allows inflammation to persist. Ground Ivy is a favourite go-to remedy for the early stages of earache and sinus infections, especially indicated when there is fluid stagnation in the ears, sinuses, and the ear, nose, and throat lymphatic vessels. At the first sign of earache, take 3ml. of tincture every fifteen minutes for one hour, and then take a 3ml. every hour afterwards for the remainder of the day.
Ground Ivy is safe in small amounts, however, it is known to contain substances that can damage the liver and can cause miscarriages. Large amounts can irritate the stomach, intestines, and kidneys, and can cause serious liver damage.
Preparation and dosage:
Infusion: One teaspoon of dried herb in one cup of boiling water, leave to infuse for 10 – 15 minutes and drink 3 times daily.
Tincture: Take 1-3ml three times daily.
Additional comments and Folklore:
I have added Ground Ivy to the list of Herb Monographs because it is a herb that was once used as soon as any problem of the respiratory, or lymphatic systems, became apparent. Although there are some contraindications to be noted with this herb, it's the healing of what can be troublesome and downright uncomfortable illnesses, combined with its growing habit of being almost everywhere, makes it a useful little herb to know about.
As always with herbs, take precautions and try out a little before the need arises to begin taking a full dosage. And do not use herbs at all when pregnant or lactating.
Ground Ivy belongs to the Family of Labiatae, a large family of aromatic herbs and shrubs, which include mint; thyme; sage; rosemary.
There isn't a great deal of folklore surrounding this plant, which is surprising considering how long it has been growing here in Britain. However, what is known is that the plant was widely used by the Saxons instead of Hops in the production of ale, hence the name alehoof. Mrs Grieve is of the opinion that this was because it improved the flavour, and keeping qualities of the beer and also because it made the final drink clearer.
It also has a long reputation as an excellent infusion herb, where am infusion is made from the herb, and is then sweetened with honey, sugar or liquorice and allowed to cool. This was often sold on the streets in Elizabethan England under the name 'Gill Tea'. It was also used in this era as a blood purifier. Interestingly, 'Gill Tea' was the name of the extremely bitter drink made by boiling together Ground Ivy and young Nettle shoots and drinking it for nine consecutive days in the spring. This remedy was used to clear up skin complaints in the form of a spring tonic.