Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)

Creeping Charlie

Glechoma hederacea

My heart ran forth on little feet of music
to keep the new commandment.
(O feast and frolic of awakening spring!)
It would beguile the world to be a garden
with seeds of one refrain: My little children,
love one another; so my heart would sing.

But wisdom halted it, out far afield,
asked: did you sow this seed
around your house, or in the neighbor's garden
or any nearby acreage of need?
No? Then it will not grow in outer places.
Love has its proper soil, its native land;
its first roots fasten on the near-at-hand.

Back toward the house from which I deftly fled,
down neighbors' lanes, across my father's barley
my heart brought home its charity. It said:
love is a simple plant like a Creeping Charlie;
once it takes root its talent is to spread.

My Heart Ran Forth, Jessica Powers

Common Names

Also known as cat ivy, cat's foot, crow victuals, field balm, variations of "gill", ground joy, hayhofe, haymaids, hedgemaids, hove, lizzy-run-up-the-hedge, robin-run-in-the-hedge, run-away-robin, tun hoof, tunhofe, turnhoof, and wild snakeroot. In the British Isles, it was called alehoff and was used to flavor beer before the use of hops. It is sometimes called creeping jenny, but is no relation to the domestic ground cover we know as creeping jenny/moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia).

Creeping Charlie is part of the mint family (Lamiaceae), purposely grown in England as ground cover. Small purple flowers and dark brown nutlets add color and interest to the plant.

It seems that success has doomed this plant to the status of "weed". Not too long ago it was called the best medical herb available for eye, throat, and skin problems. But now, because it can aggressively take over an entire lawn, it is ignored, poisoned, and tilled up.


There is a possiblility of livestock poisoning, especially in horses. Seldom fatal, but it can cause salivation, sweating, and difficulty breathing.

No adverse reactions are found for human use and consumption.


Family - Lamiaceae

Round to kidney-shaped leaves along a creeping stem. Long slender pink to red-purple flowers are in whorls. 1-3 inches high. Shady woods. March through June.

Stems - Repent (creeping or lying flat and rooting at the nodes), herbaceous (soft and succulent). Flowering portions erect, to +30cm tall, glabrous (smooth, not hairy) or often strigose (covered with sharp, coarse, bent hairs, usually with a bulbous base) on angles.

Leaves - Opposite, petiolate (with leafstalks). Petioles densely retrorse (bent or directed downward) pubescent (hairy), reduced upward. Blades reniform (kidney-shaped) to orbicular (circular, like an orb or ring), to +3cm long (and wide), typically glabrous (smooth, not hairy) but also sparsely pubescent (hairy). Margins crenate (shallowly rounded).

Square stems distinguish creeping Creeping Charlie from Common Mallow or speedwells. Creeping stems that root at the nodes distinguish it from Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), Purple Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) and Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica).

Ground ivy is characterized by its coin-shaped leaves with scalloped (crenate) edges and square petioles and stems. All plant parts have a strong mint odor when crushed or cut. Ground ivy's orchid-like purple flowers appear for a short time in mid-May. The flowers can easily be overlooked as they are often exhibited below the turf canopy.

Food and Medical Uses

The entire plant can be used fresh or dried.

Mix the young leaves into salads. Cook like spinach or add to soups.

Add fresh leaves to stir fry or vegetable dishes.

Dip sprigs of fresh leaves in batter and fry, serving with salt and olives.

Make an herb tea from fresh or dried leaves. The herb has been added to beer in much the same way as hops in order to clear it and also to improve its flavour and keeping qualities. This species was the most common flavouring in beer prior to the use of hops from the 16th century onwards.

Pour one cup of boiling water over 1/4 cup of fresh herb, let stand for seven minutes, strain and sweeten to taste. It combines well with lemon verbena or mint.

Wash a few handfuls of Creeping Charlie, Red Clover, and White Clover in a strainer, and dry them in a warm oven, 180 degrees F, for about 2 hours spread out on a cookie sheet or a fine screen or grid. Shred and crush the results and store in a glass jar. To brew, put about a teaspoon of finely shredded tea for every 5 ounces of water into a tea ball or infuser, and brew for 10 minutes in hot water and add honey to sweeten.

Some old English recipes flavored jam with ground ivy and added young spring leaves to oatmeal, soups, and vegetables.

In the early 20th Century, ground ivy tea was used in Britain as a cure-all, and was frequently used for tuberculosis and as an antidote for lead poisoning.

The stems of the plant were also made into wreaths for the dead.

Reference Links

Dave's Garden
Help Fellowship
Herbal Remedies
Michigan State University Turf Weeds
Natural Standard
Plants for a Future
Virginia Tech Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science
Slash Food
Pacific States Wildflowers, Theodore F. Niehaus and Charles L. Ripper, 1976 by Houghton Mifflin Company