It is a nasty enemy to the lawn mower, as it can become a very invasive weed in gardens. However, the plant offers a wide range of useful benefits that we should embrace.
Ground ivy is a singular member of the mint family with a sophisticated aroma and a complex taste that has been used for multitude of health benefits (yet to prove) and in the kitchen as a an aromatic herb and a salad green. It is no longer cultivated and the best way to get the plant is going foraging.
Description and species
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is a perennial evergreen creeper of the mint family Lamiaceae. Creeping Charlie, catsfoot, field balm and alehoof are just a few of the many names this plant has been known for. It features small kidney shaped and lightly haired leaves attached to square stems with lavender coloured flowers appearing on spring.
The whole plant possesses a unique heady and balsamic fragrance with mixed registers of mint and other aromatic herbs. However, the flavour, is a bit like mint and sage with a bitter aftertaste and a lightly hairy texture: the younger the leaves, the better.
Notes on edibility
Ground Ivy has been used for thousands of years and has been praised as a nutritious herb and salad green loaded with vitamin C and a plethora of medicinal uses to cure all kinds of pains and diseases.
This plant was conveniently used by the Saxons to clarify, preserve and flavour beer before the introduction of hops for these purposes and has been used in the cheese-making process as a vegan substitute of animal rennet. Gill tea made of this plant was very popular in the English countryside and the herb was easily available on London shops.
However, safety has not been established scientifically and there is some evidence to be cautious in the use of ground ivy due to its volatile oils. It is for instance toxic to cattle and horses. Nevertheless, you would need to consume high quantities of the plant to have any notorious risk.
Foraging in season
Ground ivy is one of the most common plants you can forage in Great Britain and it’s native to Europe and south western Asia. It has also been introduced to North America, where it’s considered invasive species.
They are found in grasslands, wooded areas and wasteland. It thrives in moist shaded areas and flourishes in sunny hedgerows. It quickly spreads by stolon and seeds and will form dense carpets taking over areas of lawn, becoming an invasive species on gardens.
Not any better solution to remove them but eating them. It is best collected between April and June when it is easily recognizable by the flower.
Storage and processing
Culinary uses and recipes
The young leaves can be eaten raw and have an aromatic mint-sage flavour with a mild bitter aftertaste. They can be tossed in salads to add an aromatic note, but I would not use too much due to strong flavour and particular hairy texture.
Ground ivy can also be cooked like any other greens and it works as a pot herb on soups, stews and fritattas. Alternatively, it looks really nice prepared as tempura, a recipe that Robert Harford from Eat the Weeds propose.
In medieval times, the plant was used to stuff and flavour meat as an alternative to regular cultivated herbs. Today, that still sounds great and it is really handy as a dried rub or to make a fantastic salsa verde to complement meats. It suits lamb particularly well.
Mark Williams from Galloway Foods suggest a wonderful recipe of ground ivy shrub: sweet and tart drinking vinegar to be mixed in sophisticated wild cocktails. However, you could use it in beer crafting as a substitute of hops, as it was done by the Saxons.
Tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves and it is often used with verbena and lovage leaves. Gil tea was a cooling beverage made of ground ivy infused in boiling water and sweetened with honey and used to be a remedy for the poor for coughs. It is really refreshing and aromatic and tastes great.