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Creeping Charlie Lawn Weed

From Beer Ingredient to Invasive Plant to... Aromatic Herb?

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Picture of Glechoma hederacea, or

Ground Ivy, or Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)

David Beaulieu

It wasn't only as a healing herb that perennial ground ivy, our omnipresent lawn weed (Glechoma hederacea), was prized (see picture at right). Creeping charlie "was one of the principal herbs used by the early Saxons to clarify their beers, before hops had been introduced, the leaves being steeped in the hot liquor. Hence the names it has also borne; Alehoof and Tunhoof. It not only improved the flavour and keeping qualities of the beer, but rendered it clearer. Until the reign of Henry VIII it was in general use for this purpose. The plant also acquired the name of Gill from the French guiller (to ferment beer), but as Gill also meant 'a girl,' it came also to be called 'Hedgemaids'" (source: Botanical.com).

Yet another common name for this perennial lawn weed is "catsfoot" (its leaf is the approximate shape and size of a kitten's paw). But don't let the name fool you: cats (and dogs) can get sick by eating large quantities of creeping charlie. Sometimes it is also referred to as "creeping jenny," but that nickname is more commonly reserved for Lysimachia nummularia. Incidentally, the potential for confusion inherent in such a plethora of common names is the chief argument in favor of using the scientific names of plant taxonomy.

When a plant has this many nicknames, you can be pretty sure of two things: it's widespread, and people interacted with it in a number of ways over a long period of time. In thinking about the various uses people found for creeping charlie, I can't help but ponder how different life must have been in those bygone ages. Today we pick apart computer applications, trying to figure out how they work. Back then, the same amount of energy must have been expended on learning everything possible about our botanical neighbors. Who knew what novel alchemist's treasure might lie within an herb's leaf, if heated just right at the full of the moon?

Yes, in the Age of Technology it is easy to overlook plants. Yet sometimes even the lowliest of weeds finds a way to work its charms on our senses -- almost in spite of us. Ground ivy, the despised lawn weed, the invasive alien that we spend so much time battling, is just such a plant. Do you enjoy the aroma of a freshly mown lawn? Most people do. Well, a patch of lawn that I regularly mow has some creeping charlie in it. And I'll tell you something: you haven't smelled anything yet until you've experienced the aroma of freshly mown creeping charlie! Truly one of the joys of summer, inhaling the aroma of these fragrant plants almost makes the chore of mowing the lawn worthwhile....

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