Often overlooked, ground ivy grows vigorously and spreads in shady lawns easily, becoming an invasive weed in gardens. However, it looks amazing as a ground cover in woodland, displaying beautiful violet flowers which attract bees and butterflies.
Learn to love it and embrace such a useful herb with aromatic notes like no other. Ground ivy offers a wide range of medicinal properties and culinary uses.
Description and species
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is an aromatic 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’s native to Europe and Southwestern Asia and was brought by European settlers to North America, where is now considered an invasive species.
The plant 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.
Ground ivy has slight resemblance to other plants belonging to the same family, like purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), but all three are edible. Incidentally, ground ivy is not related to true ivy (Hedera helix), which is poisonous.
Notes on edibility
Ground ivy is a member of the mint family and therefore has cooling and calming properties, helps digestion after a meal and relieves congestion and inflammation of the mucous membranes. The plant is also high in vitamin C, iron and flavonoid antioxidants.
However, it is recommended to be cautious in the use of ground ivy, as it contains volatile oils which may be toxic in large quantities, although this is most likely to be destroyed by cooking.
Ground ivy has long been used to clarify, preserve and flavour beer before the introduction of hops and modern clarifying agents, as many other plants that has been used for this purpose. It has also been used on the cheese-making process as a vegan substitute of animal rennet.
Foraging in season
Ground ivy is widely distributed in the British Isles and can be found almost everywhere. It is common in grasslands, flourishes in wooded areas and hedgerows and it thrives in moist shaded areas, but can take over in gardens, forming dense carpets, as it tolerates sun very well.
The novice forager will be confused when finding ground ivy in different environments. In open fields, where it receives plenty of sunlight, they will often grow upright with more pointed leaves, dying leaves in red, whereas in shaded areas such as woodland, ground ivy will creep across the ground and will display round deep green leaves.
It is best collected between April and June, when it’s easily recognisable by the flower. However, pick the younger leaves, as they develop a lightly hairy texture.
Storage and processing
You can dry the leaves in quantities to convenience. This can be done by spreading the leaves in the oven at a very low temperature or on the radiator. Store in an airtight jar and use as a regular kitchen herb or make aromatic and medicinal herbal tea.
Culinary uses and recipes
Ground ivy is a singular member of the mint family with a distinctive smell and a complex taste, somewhere in between mint and sage with a mild bitter aftertaste. Young leaves can be eaten either raw or cooked and are used sparingly in the kitchen.
They can be tossed into salads to add a slight aromatic tang and make the perfect coating for soft creamy goat’s cheese. Use as an aromatic herb on omelettes and chop finely for a fresh tomato bruschetta. Add to soups and stews at the end of the cooking process.
Ground ivy has been used to stuff and flavour meat as an alternative to regular cultivated herbs and they can make a fantastic salsa verde to complement roasted meats. Use to marinate lamb or mix with minced meat to make gorgeous burgers.
You can even infuse in vinegar taken advantage of its aromatic scent. Mark Williams from Galloway Foods goes further and suggest the possibility of ground ivy shrub: sweet and tart drinking vinegar to be mixed in sophisticated wild cocktails.
However, best use is probably drank as an herbal tea with a little bit of honey. It has a sharp and refreshing flavour that can be combined with lemon verbena or mint, making a mostly refreshing drink.