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Creeping Charlie: Wild Groundcover

From Medicinal Herb and Beer Ingredient to Invasive Lawn Weed

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Picture of creeping charlie, or

Picture of ground ivy.

David Beaulieu

Creeping charlie, or "ground ivy" (Glechoma hederacea) is an aromatic, perennial, evergreen creeper of the Mint family that thrives particularly in moist shady areas, although it will also take some sun. Native to Europe, Glechoma hederacea has naturalized in North America; it is widely encountered in most regions of the U.S. except for the Rocky Mountain states. Part of the reason for its spread is its rhizomatous method of reproduction. A variegated version is sold at some nurseries.

Creeping charlie has a squarish stem that varies in length from a few inches to two feet. The color of creeping charlie's leaves also varies, from dark green to purple (note how purple its leaves are in the picture on Page 2). The funnel-shaped flowers of ground ivy have a bluish-purple color, and the plant spreads to form a dense mat over the ground.

But far from viewing creeping charlie as a wild groundcover, landscapers usually consider it a lawn weed and try to get rid of it. Landscapers spray glyphosate-based herbicides (Roundup, for example) on creeping charlie to kill this invasive weed. The University of Minnesota Extension offers a home remedy for killing creeping charlie that involves the use of Borax. With all this effort expended to stop this plant from growing, you may be surprised to learn that creeping charlie was intentionally brought to North America by European settlers. But once you learn about the history of creeping charlie's usage, some of that surprise should dissipate.

Creeping charlie's medicinal qualities have been known since at least the days of ancient Greece and Rome. Galen, for instance, recommended creeping charlie for inflamed eyes, and English herbalist, John Gerard (1545-1607) recommended ground ivy for ringing in the ears, according to Botanical.com, "A Modern Herbal." The same source reports the medicinal properties of ground ivy as being "diuretic, astringent, tonic and gently stimulant. Useful in kidney diseases and for indigestion."

Never is it wise, however, to ingest any plant, medicinal or otherwise, without first becoming thoroughly informed about its properties. If you are not an expert in such matters, you may be unaware that it is only a particular part of the plant that can safely be ingested -- whether as an herbal remedy, a food, or a drink. And speaking of drink, on Page 2 we'll see that creeping charlie served for centuries as an important ingredient in one of the most popular drinks ever invented....

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