Ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea
Ground ivy, a member of the mint family, has several colourful names in English as well, including Creeping Charlie and Runaway Robin. Another, more natural feature of the plant is that it is far from fussy about where it grows. It thrives in either light or shade, in poor soil, and is highly resistant to winter frosts – as well as to being trampled on. As if all that were not enough, it’s also fast-growing and spreads over wide areas very effectively. To some people ground ivy is nothing more than an invasive nuisance. To others it’s an interesting useful plant, which was once used to flavour beers, amongst other things.
The flowers and leaves of ground ivy are edible, with a taste similar to mint, blackcurrant and thyme. However, it should be consumed only in small amounts, because the plant is classified as slightly poisonous. It rarely causes symptoms when used sparingly.
Something to try
Ground ivy is tangy and aromatic, and a handful of it makes a tasty addition to summer green salads or potato salad. It is also good as a seasoning for smoked fish: add a handful of salted ground ivy to the fish and allow to sit overnight before being smoked.
Gathering the plants
Ground ivy blossoms in May-June. The leaves have a rough texture, so grinding, extracting or soaking are recommended before use.
Other interesting facts
Until the 1700s, before the use of hops became widespread, beers were flavoured with a wide variety of plants, including ground ivy. Ground ivy beer can still be found in some countries, under the name Gill ale. However, a mixture of many plants was more commonly used for flavouring during the brewing process. If you’re lucky, you might be able to track down one of these historic herbal beers in some countries, where it’s called Grut Bier or Grut ale.