By Lise Wolff
Glechoma hederacea (ground ivy or creeping charlie) grows everywhere. Waste places, parks, along walks and in many people’s gardens and lawns. Most everyone ignores it if they’re not outright trying to kill it. As an herbalist, I know that what people need most often grows right under their feet. No need for exotic imported herbs when we have been gifted with powerful medicine growing everywhere we walk, often in our own backyard.
So naturally I became interested in a plant as prolific and tenacious as ground ivy. Ground ivy has the habits of an ivy in growth, staying green underneath the snow. Yet it is actually a mint, beautifully fragrant when crushed. All mints are diaphoretic, opening the pores to release heat, and can be used to help move a fever through.
As with so many plants, the list of uses for ground ivy is extensive. Dull, congestive headaches, toothache, earache, sore throats, bronchitis, chest colds. Last but not least, it was popular for beer making, providing a good taste, clarifying the beer and preventing souring. Dr. William Coles, a 17th century doctor and herbalist from England noted, “Country people formerly used it much in their ale and beer and so they would now, if they were wise. But this age forsakes all things old, though never so good, and embraces all sorts of novelties whatsoever. But the time will come when all the fopperies of the present time shall be slighted, and the true and honest prescriptions of the Ancients come into request again.” Amazing how history repeats itself.
Ground ivy surrounds many homes. It was used for centuries to prevent and treat a type of lead poisoning called “painter’s colic.” Plants grow where they are needed. Does it pull the lead out of the soil as well as people? Studies suggest it does, but there is still uncertainty concerning such a strong claim. I have used it with beneficial results (oftentimes along with plantain) for people who believe themselves poisoned with heavy metals. Matthew Wood and David Winston have both used ground ivy for mercury poisoning, a concern for anyone who has ever had a cavity filled and even those who have had those fillings removed, as sometimes that removal releases mercury back into the system.
Ground ivy. Such an interesting and useful plant. Historically it was used for ‘kidney disease.’ Way too general for me to use in my practice. So I watched and I waited. My first experience with ground ivy was a case of general poor health. As an herbalist, I follow the body’s outward symptoms to clue into the balance of the various organ systems. The client complained of fatigue and lower back pain. Oftentimes, lower back pain is not muscular-skeletal but kidney related. She had circles under her eyes. In Chinese medicine, this is the kidney area on the face. I pulse-tested (my method for discovering the herbs that will help the body) various kidney remedies. Ground ivy was the winner.
Not having much of an explanation, we both went on faith that she try the remedy. Two weeks later she called feeling much better. She said that she felt “motivated.” Soon after, I had a case with a woman who no longer cared to do all the things she normally loved. Dark circles under her eyes. Fatigue. Ground ivy was the remedy. A week later she felt “fine.” She was preoccupied with a head cold that began with a fever, slightly plugged ears and swollen lymph glands. Ground ivy resembles the lymph system, sometimes developing swollen nodes along the runners. Her symptoms began immediately after taking the remedy. When asked about her motivation she said, “Oh, I forgot about that. I’m fine now.”
If symptoms come quickly on the tail of taking a remedy, it is facilitating the body to move something through. This is called a healing crisis. If symptoms come after a few weeks or more, the remedy is probably causing what it would cure. This is a homeopathic principle which is true in herbalism as well.
So why should a kidney remedy help motivation? In Chinese Medicine, the Jing is stored in the kidneys. This ‘essence’ is the stuff creation is made of. Almost like DNA. In Chinese medicine, if there is a problem with fertility, treat the kidneys. For thousands of years the way humans created themselves in the world was to procreate and produce children. But this is the 90’s and the way we put out our creations has changed. Many times we wait to have children later in life, if at all. Thus we find other ways to passionately create. This is what we contribute to the world. When we no longer have that umph, ground ivy clears that particular imbalance in the kidneys.
Ground ivy was also used by 17th century English herbalist Nicolas Culpeper to cure “the noise and singing” of the ears and restores “hearing which is decayed.” The Chinese believe that if there is a chronic imbalance in the kidneys it manifests through the kidney meridian (energy line) and comes out the ears. Although I have not found ground ivy to clear ringing in the ears, I have found it to be quite useful for congested head colds with plugged ears and even plugged ears having persisted for several years. Ear congestion sometimes gets mistaken for hearing loss.
What a gift to have ground ivy growing all around us. Perhaps we should restore it to its original Latin name, Corona terrae; ‘Earth Crown,’ as it is truly like a garland over the ground.