Creeping Charlie Everywhere, from Beer to Iguanas!

I see Creeping Charlie everywhere this week. This fast-growing ground cover is coming into its own as we head into the hottest part of the summer.

Creeping Charlie, formally known as Glechoma hederacea. Picture from a Catonsville park.

Glechoma hederacea is also known as Ground Ivy. You can see here the ivy-like square-shaped stems crawling across the ground. They are covered in dainty scalloped leaves. I think this plant is quite distinctive. It also develops tiny purple trumpet shaped flowers, although I could not find any blooming recently to get a good picture. It apparently blooms in May.

When blooming, it resembles a viney, over-large Catmint. That isn’t surprising, since Creeping Charlie is also a member of the Mint family. The Linnean name, Glechoma hederacea, literally means “mint ivy”.

It does have a strong pleasant odor when crushed; I personally feel it reminds me more of Cilantro than Mint, but I’m the only one who thinks that so just look for a minty scent when you crush it.

This plant came from Europe and Asia with the first European settlers. It has been widely used for medicine and cooking for several thousand years.

An old English name for this plant, Alehoffs, gives us a hint as to one of its older uses — it was widely used in brewing beer before Hops came into wide usage. It helped flavor and stabilize the beer, much as Hops do today. Other names related to brewing include Gill, Gill-by-the-hedge, Gillale, and Gill-over-the-ground; gill comes from the old French word guiller, which means “to brew”.

Apparently the name for beers made then — and today — without hops, is gruit . With some help from a brewer friend, I located a couple of modern gruit recipes that include Creeping Charlie. We’re going to try some! Here are some recipes we’re looking at. We’ll be sure to report on the results.

It was also used in jams, soups, and oatmeal by the English.

It has historically been used medicinally — even the Greeks and Romans wrote of using it for everything from melancholy to gallstones. The Europeans used it for a similarly wide range of issues. However, just because a plant has been used medicinally historically, does not mean it is actually effective. I don’t see it mentioned in any common modern herbals, and it seems to have fallen into disuse. I suspect that there are just too many more effective herbal options for anything it actually treats. Dave’s Garden agrees.

The flavor is described in several places as minty and pleasant; Edible Wild Foods suggests using the young leaves and flowers as salad, pot herbs, or to make tea. However, the University of Illinois Extension Service tells us that this herb is poisonous to humans in large quantities, as it can be toxic to the liver and the kidneys. The Maryland Extension Service states that it is poisonous to horses in large quantities as well. So if you do eat it, don’t eat too much.

I have to admit that as a teenager I fed it to my sister’s pet iguana who seemed to like it a lot. He got very excited, and believe me, it takes a lot to excite an iguana. They’re mostly decorative pets. He didn’t die until several years later, so I’m fairly certain that the Creeping Charlie didn’t kill him. Your mileage may vary — it is probably not ideal iguana food. Also, don’t tell my sister.

In spite of being only marginally useful, it is an attractive plant. It has spread to most of the United States, but is only considered a noxious weed in Connecticut. I can, however, vouch for the fact that once established it is very difficult to get rid of. It has rhizomes beneath the ground that are difficult to remove, and so pulling the weed just means that it comes back again the following year. It also sends down new roots from the vines. (USDA)

Thanks to the friend who pointed this one out to me!

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