This plant looks nothing like ivy. It seems it got its name because of the way it grows all over a patch of ground to form a mat, like ivy sort of does. …but then ivy climbs trees and buildings while ground ivy can do nothing of the sort. I see this plant all the time, usually in slightly more shaded areas near a tree or around a hedge or fence, but I am always happy when I do see my old friend. We met during my uni days when I first found it’s picture in Roger Phillip’s book. I soon discovered it was an edible herb (though too much of it is bad for horses…) and now rarely pass it by without putting a leaf to my lips and thrilling my tastebuds with its strong herbal taste.
In earlier days I used to confuse it with red deadnettle as they both grow to roughly the same height with similar leaves and the flowers look similar to my eyes! In fact, the leaves are very different with ground ivy’s having relatively deep lobes. The biggest difference seems to be the location of the flowers which in red deadnettle form only around the top but in ground ivy hang from points all down the stem. Ground ivy also tends to be darker.
Anyway, on to its uses. It is a nicely flavoured herb, like a weak mint, useful for flavouring cooking etc but best of all, it makes a very fine tea. That is the reason I have a handful of its leaves in the picture above. I carried these home in my trouser pocket and dried them on the windowsil for about a week:
Looks like considerably less now, doesn’t it.
Anyway, tonight I popped the dried leaves into a mug, poured on boiling water and let it brew for 5 minutes – like a proper northerner. Is this too much detail? Well, it looked pretty weak compared to what we’re used to seeing in a mug, even though I pressed and squeezed the leaves as much as I could. The aroma was great though so I put mug to lips and sipped.
I added a third of a teaspoon of sugar and hey presto, flavour sensation!
This is called Gill Tea, from the french ‘guiller’ which means ‘to ferment beer’ – ground ivy used to be used before hops to clear beer and flavour it.
The taste at first hits the nostrils and one thinks it could be mint but not quite; only a mild mint. In the mouth it reminds me of nettle tea, but that is perhaps just the rounded ‘green’ taste of any wild plant. All in all though, I finished the cup and could quite happily drink it every day to refresh the senses in it’s minty way or warm the body on a cold spring day.
So, what’ll it do for me? Well, the ‘Modern Herbal’ written in 1931 quotes centuries older sources that say it’s slightly stimulant and an excellent tonic for nervous headaches and clearing coughs. The recipe for the latter, however, was sweetened with honey. I read somewhere that honey in itself is as good as most cough medicines for doing the same. I wouldn’t listen to the old texts too much though as, reading on, it seems the plant has been used at some stage for curing almost every malady. Just like a normal cup of tea then.
Eeee, ‘ave a cuppa tea.