Alehoof

The Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is also known as ‘Creeping Charlie’, or ‘Alehoof’ (or ‘ale-hoof’), as for gardeners, it is often considered a nuisance, due to it thriving in shady lawns.

Despite its common name, the ground ivy is actually unrelated to the common ivy (Hedera Helix), and is in fact a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). This also makes it more related to the dead-nettles.

The ground ivy has many other common names, including ‘Tunhoof’, ‘Catsfoot’, ‘Field Balm’, ‘Gill over the Ground’, ‘Runaway Robin’, and ‘Athair Lusa’

The ground ivy is one of Britain’s commonest plants, and prefers shady and moist habitats. This can make them common in woodlands, hedgerows, parks, and gardens. In terms of places, it can be found in Europe, Ireland, and in north and west Asia. Ground ivy is also naturalised in North America, where it is considered an invasive species, and has also been introduced to New Zealand.

Between March and June, G. hederacea produces funnel-shaped, bluish flowers with a purple tint. These appear in whorls of two to four, and are stated to smell strongly of blackcurrant. The flowers are also an important source of nectar for bees during the spring.

Ground ivy have kidney-shaped leaves, which are often bright or dark green, but can be tinged red if they grow in full sun. These leaves also have toothed margins, and stick out of the square stem on longish stalks.

G. hederacea is an evergreen plant, that can be described as herbaceous (relating to the herbs), and perennial (present during three or more growing seasons). This ivy is a creeping plant, meaning it grows close to the ground, to form a ground cover (anywhere between 0.2-1 m high). Here, this plant often forms clumps, and spreads by producing overground runners which frequently root. Even the plants roots are creeping, and they prevent other plants from growing too close.

The fact the ground ivy grows in graveyards, ruins, and shady places led to them being a common ingredient in spells and magic. The plant’s association with witchcraft explained why country folk believed it drove away other flora.

G. hederacea was once used in herbal medicines, where it was largely used to clear headaches, congestion, coughs, and colds. Infusions of this herb were also used to treat eye diseases, or injury.

The leaves of the ground ivy were also traditionally used as a bittering agent for beer; that was until it was replaced by hops (also hence its other common name, alehoof, or ale-hoof).

G. hederacea also features in the Green Thursday or Maundy Thursday celebrations, a crossover between Pagan and Christian traditions (both celebrated on the same day, the Thursday before Easter). Green Thursday celebrates nature’s return in Spring, and here, people wore a crown of ivy whilst dancing at night. This was said to reaffirm their connection to the old gods. Ground ivy was also an important ingredient in the Maundy Thursday soup, and this day starts the holy three-day period before Easter Sunday.

Resources:

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/wildflowers/ground-ivy

https://britishlocalfood.com/ground-ivy/

https://www.eatweeds.co.uk/ground-ivy-glechoma-hederacea