Chill over the ground

16th January 2013

Even if you are struggling to find anything else in the frost and snow, you will almost certainly come across Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea under virtually every hedge and along every woodland ride. Like Cleavers Gallium aparine it goes by many names Gill-over -the ground, Catsfoot, Creeping Charlie, Hedgemaids and Alehoof. It is a invasive, creeping perennial and is often a problem weed species in gardens. It is in the mint Lamiaceae family, and has they characteristic square stem like mint. The leaves are a rounded kidney shape with crenated edges. In spring it puts up a flower spike topped with bluish purple flowers but for the rest of the year you will find it crawling over the ground.

Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea

Like mint it is strongly aromatic, with the smell having minty qualities but slightly bitter overtones of something else which I’ve heard described as resembling all sorts of things including; diesel, sage, lavender, rosemary and even cannabis. Once you are familiar with its smell, you cannot fail to find and identify it. Often you can smell it as you walk (or even drive) over it.

It seems to be one of those plants that people either love or hate the taste of, and I must admit to not being a big fan personally. The young leaves can be used all year round, either raw in salads (in moderation as they are quite overpowering raw) but also cooked as a herb to add flavour. Its resemblance to mint means that it can be used in similar ways; chopped with sugar and vinegar to accompany meats, or in sweet dishes for flavouring deserts. It can also be dried and used in herb mixtures or as a rub.
It has also been used to make a herbal tea called Gill Tea which can be made with the fresh or dried leaves. An an infusion (essentially a tea) has several medicinal properties the best known being for the easing of sore throats and tonsillitis and as such it is often included into cold and flu remedies. It is also used for bladder inflammations, bronchitis and disorders of the digestive tract.

One bizarre use for it dates back to the days of cockfighting when it was used to treat eye injuries to fighting cocks.

It has a long association with brewing beer which can be dated back to at least Saxon times. In fact it was used right up to the Elizabethan era to both flavour, preserve and help clarify beer and it was the introduction of hops from Holland which replaced it. This is where the name Alehoof and also Gill comes from, Guiller in French means to brew beer.

Our partners The Foragers at the Verulam Arms, had a small batch of Ground Ivy beer produced last year by a local microbrewery and very good it was to………and remember I’m not normally a big fan.

Kev Palmer

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