Saturday, January 12, 2013

Herbal Medicine: Alehoof


Also known as Ground Ivy and Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea is my all time favorite yard herb and I believe quite possibly the most under used and invaluable herb today.  Also not found on the market anywhere.  It is often found sprawling over your garden beds and under bushes and pine trees.  Ground Ivy is a familiar face with a very familiar musty, menthol scent.  One man had a spark of recognition as he smelled the crushed leaves I handed him and said, "Oh!!  That reminds me of playing football when I was a kid and having my face smashed in the dirt!"

I personally remember it from my childhood and running through fields with my cousins with little baggies looking to make perfume.  We picked any stinky plant we could find.  Mainly Ground Ivy.  It was the prevailing scent anyway.

Ground Ivy grows year round, only disappearing if there is a really harsh winter.  It will tolerate being buried in the snow for a long time.  The only time I've seen it disappear for good in the winter was in Massachusetts, but then again we were constantly buried under 4 feet of compacted snow there, so I really can't say if it went away fully.  You will often see it growing with Violet.  They like each other and the same environs.  It loves temperate, tree laden regions though it will sport itself in the sunshine if the ground retains enough moisture.  It grows from Oregon to Virginia and most places in between and beyond.

Ground Ivy has square stems, being in the mint family.  It blooms in the springtime and there seem to be plants that carry male flowers and those that carry female flowers.  The flower is pretty, light purple and looks like a person hanging their head down in a weary fashion.  The male flower's anthers form two unique white X's affixed to the upper petal (the "head" of the figurative flower person), one where sinuses would be and another father down on the throat.  X marks the spot as I see it.  

This plant is fabulous for sinus infections and is a sustainable and more gentle alternative to Goldenseal.  It will dry up a post nasal drip that is causing a sore throat.  I really enjoy it during allergy season to control rhinitis.  It is cooling and sops up all that snot.  

Widely regarded as safe, Ground Ivy has been employed to treat a plethora of conditions throughout history.  It is a panacea of sorts. 

Like many medicinal plants, it has been used as a food, the leaves eaten fresh in a nice green mix salad.  Maude Grieve in her Modern Herbal points out that French peasants ate a little "hairy tumor" found on the leaves sometimes in the fall, which she notes has a concentrated flavor of the plant.  This reminds me of Chaga mushroom on Birch trees, which extracts the cancer-and-other-disease-fighting betulinic acid from the wood, which otherwise would not be digestible by humans, into its fruiting body.  Whatever fungus it is that makes the growths on the Ground Ivy leaf seems to do something similar--concentrate its medicinal powers.  So if you come across some leaves with little "hairy tumors" don't cringe--rejoice!  It's edible, and probably twice as medicinal. (Update July 2013:  So this past Spring I noticed these tumors growing on some Ground Ivy and I got all exited.  Most had a red flush to them which I found interesting.  They were really almost crunchy, best when tender and small, but if large were tough, fibrous, pithy... over all unappetizing.  And also, I discovered that this tumor is not caused by a fungus as I had assumed, but by a little grub that is not noticeable in the small stage.  HAHA oh man...I chalked it up to eating "more protein".......and maybe still get a little grossed out that I ate that.  I don't even know what kind of worm it was!  Whatever, they eat insects all over the world so.......  I can say that the small nodules were very high in the unique essential oils of Ground Ivy, and that would make sense as it would be a defense response of the plant.  The larger ones were worn out if you will, over all lacking in menthol and flavor.  Also, the little worms, as they get bigger are encompassed in a tiny, circular, almost impenetrable dark shell unless you exert good force to crack it...I imagine it is produced by the plant but am not sure.  Maybe the worm does it?  The little plant tumor on the whole looks like fibrous tissue, and I would take it to be a rather significant signature for fibrous tumors or fibrous/knotted tissues in the body, perhaps particularly if caused by a pathogen re: warts? something?  I would be keen to know if it would have any affect on such conditions.  The red flush  atop the tumor could indicate heat, or blood, or both.  Makes me think of piles.

.....Alas, I'd really like to know what that little grub is.)

Ground Ivy bears the name Alehoof because it was used to give ale a better flavor, preserve and clarify it.  "Better flavor? But--it's stinky," you say?  Well, I can say a tincture of it in brandy is actually rather delicious!  Its flavors practically transform into minty, stimulating deliciousness.  So one of these days, I'll make some beer and add Ground Ivy.  They used to use a lot of different herbs in beer, making it more stimulating and, dare I say psychedelic, until the Protestant Reformation came along and sedating Hops were promoted as a preservative in place of the other herbs.  Thanks for that one...Hops also has full blown replicas of estrogen which makes things grow--bad for beer bellies and swollen prostates in middle aged men.

Among Ground Ivy's more wonderful powers is its ability to remove soft heavy metals from the body that accumulate.  It was employed with great success for Painter's Poisoning, or lead colic, during the lead paint days.  Perhaps that's useful to know today given the mercury laden light bulbs and flu shots being pushed on the masses.

It is wonderful for colic in babies, and their fussy digestive pains in general.  When I had my daughter, I started out using Catnip for her digestive complaints which is frequently used for babies' tummy troubles, but when I switched to Ground Ivy the difference was remarkable.  It worked much, much better for my baby and seemed to have a nice, soothing effect overall.

Ground Ivy has a history of use in cancer and in modern preliminary studies on the essential oil, the non-toxic but powerful insecticidal Gleheda (a lectin, or sugar-binding protein)  "preferentially agglutinates" to red blood cells carrying the Tn antigen.  Cancer cells are known to carry the Tn antigen.

The juice of the leaf applied to the eyes has a long historical use for clearing up cataracts in humans and animals.

Anyway, I could go on, but this is probably a good place to stop for today.

Now go, make friends with Ground Ivy!!

This information is not intended to be a replacement for advice from a licensed medical professional.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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