Outside: Ground ivy, the sneak in your yard

Published 12:42 pm Monday, April 24, 2023

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By Steve Roark


Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is a small plant that’s possibly in your yard but keeps a low profile so you may not notice it. But if you’re ever mowing and suddenly pick up on a minty smell, then you for sure have it.

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The plant is worth a close look, for its petite bloom and leaves are striking. It has been given many names over the years, including Creeping Charlie, Crow-Victuals, and Gill-Over-The-Ground.

Ground ivy is a perennial lawn weed that creeps along the ground, often tucked under the grass, and prefers shady, moist areas like under trees and on the north side of a house. The leaves are round to kidney shaped with a bumpy scalloped edge and often have a purplish tinge. The flowers are small and a brilliant blue to violet, with the petals forming a double lower lip structure. They bloom from March to July.

Ground ivy was brought here from Europe and escaped gardens to become naturalized here. You will likely smell it before you see it, as it’s in the mint family and releases a strong odor when disturbed. Like all mints, this one has a square stem.

It has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes, traditionally for treating lung ailments, asthma, jaundice, kidney ailments and for blood purification. It was applied externally to treat backaches, bruises and to reduce swelling. It is reportedly toxic to horses, but this is rare because the bitter taste of the plant discourages consumption. The leaves can be dried and used to make an herbal tea, but be sure to try only small quantities at first in case of food allergies.

Steve Roark is a volunteer at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.