Foraging for Ground Ivy

(Glechoma hederacea)

An evergreen, Ground Ivy’s delicate vines and beautiful flowers are often overlooked. It’s a shining star on our list of wild ingredients here at The Salt Box, used pretty much all throughout the year!
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Edible Flowers, Wild Greens

How to Identify

Ground Ivy is creeping plant that grows low to the ground with kidney-shaped, deep green leaves that are typically scalloped, with a square stem. Be sure to cross reference a few sources to identify your wild ingredients, and if in doubt – leave it out. 

 

If you pick a few leaves and scrunch them up, you’ll find they have a really strong smell – a great identifier.

 

During the spring, they have tiny light purple flowers – also edible and great as a garnish.

 

When and Where

This delightful herb is found in abundance in woodlands, hedgerows and damp ground pretty much all throughout the year. Note it’s not within the ivy family (as they’re poisonous), but has adopted the name ground ivy due to it’s creeping ivy-like runners! 

 

Being an evergreen, it is prominent year-round and as the name suggests, is commonly found creeping on woodland floors, hedgerows, parks and gardens.

 

Leaves
January – December
The leaves can be harvested all year round, but are at their best from Spring to Autumn.

 

Flowers
March – May
The flowers can be found in the spring, and are an important source of nectar.

Flavour and How to Use

Flavour-wise,  it’s a unique flavour, a bit of a mashup of rosemary, sage, mint and thyme with a mild bitter aftertaste. In fact, the fragrant leaves were once used as a popular bittering agent for beer until hops eventually replaced it – which is why you’ll also find it called ale-hoof (some say it’s leaves are shaped like a hoof print).

 

Ground Ivy can often be very powerful in flavour, especially when used raw, so use sparingly. It tends to mellow out when cooked or brewed.  As it’s so strong, we use it as a flavouring herb rather than a fresh green. We like to use it in a wild stuffing for a Sunday roast, or chopped finely to add to herby sauce or flatbreads.

 

Great as an aromatic herb, chopped finely to add to your dishes, we love to use it in a salsa verde, wild herb chutney, infused in vinegar or mixed in with minced meat for burgers or meatballs. You can also infuse the leaves as a herbal tea with a little honey, which is sharp and refreshing.

 

Ground Ivy’s young shoots and leaves can also be used as a bitter green, making a great replacement for spinach or an addition to your fresh salads.

Medicinal Properties

High in vitamin C, iron and flavonoid antioxidants, Ground Ivy is effective in the treatment of many ailments and is popular within traditional medicine. It is primarily used to treat throat/chest problems, relieve congestion and inflammation.

Ground Ivy is also one of the best cures for nettle stings when crushed up and applied to skin, due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

History and Folklore

History shows that Ground Ivy was a favourite ingredient in spells and magic, growing in abundance in graveyards, near ruins and unkempt places with a lot of shade.

 

strong connection to witchcraft, country-folk watched suspiciously as ground ivy takes over against other plants that grow near it.  Ground Ivy has a dubious reputation, often avoided by cattle and toxic to horses.

Things to Note

Ground Ivy is generally considered safe as it’s easy to identify, particularly due to its strong smell. There is limited research on the plant’s toxicity, therefore best to avoid if pregnant / breast-feeding.

 

As with a lot of medicinal herbs or forages, you should always be cautious as we all respond differently to new ingredients. Consuming significant amounts can irritate the kidneys, liver and stomach.

Possible Confusions

On first impression, the vibrant colour of the ground ivy’s flowers during the spring could be mistaken for purple dead nettle or henbit dead nettle. These plants are however both edible so don’t pose any distinct danger.

Henbit Dead Nettle
Purple Dead Nettle

Foraging at our Cookery Courses

All of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.

Keen to learn more?

There are a wide range of resources on foraging. Here are just a handful of our favourite books.

Our Foraging Tips

Ask permission. 

Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.

 

If in doubt, leave it out. 

Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.

 

One step at a time.

No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow. 

 

Enjoy the process.

Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.

 

Celebrate locality.

With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?

 

The 10% rule.

Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it. 

 

Leave room for regrowth.

Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.

 

Wash before consumption.

Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.