Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Nice vacation; time to get back to writing. I'm going to pick up in my herbal medicine book where I left off last time. The photo is of the variegated version of our ever-present pest, ground ivy, known also as gill-over-the-ground and creeping charlie.
I don't remember this growing at our house when I was growing up, but heck, there were parents and grandparents and kids, all gardening on a city lot, I don't remember weeds much at all. They wouldn't have had a chance. Where I do remember it is at my Aunt Nancy's farm, out in the country the other side of West Chester PA. She had a wonderful spring house, always so dark and cool, where they would chill the milk. Ground ivy grew around and in it (I'm sure she thought it was a nuisance) and for some reason I loved the smell of it when you walked on it and crushed the leaves. I still love the smell, even as I pull mountains of it out of my flower beds.
Although this seems to be everywhere, it is not native to North America, but was introduced by the early settlers. If it weren't such a weed, you might almost expect to find it sold in garden centers as a ground cover. This variegated version is sold by a number of nurseries and though sometimes a bit tricky to get started, I think it can be just as much of a nuisance as it's plainer cousin once established.
One of the original uses for the plant was to impart the desired bitter flavor to beer, to prevent it from turning sour, and to clear it. This use for the plant ended about 400 years ago when they discovered that hops would do the same thing, and I assume would do it better since that has been used ever since.
Other uses for the plant are for coughs accompanied by phlegm. It is used either fresh or dried, a teaspoonful of leaves to a cup of boiling water, a cupful of more a day. It has also been suggested that sniffing the crushed leaves will cure a headache.
Grieve's Herbal suggests that because of its astringent properties, it is useful for bruises and black eyes.
So next time you're weeding the garden and get the urge to pull out all of the ground ivy, maybe you might think twice about leaving a little patch . . . just in case . . . for medicinal purposes.

Tomorrow - hamamelis (witchhazel)


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