When gardeners talk about weeds the word vine usually makes them cringe. Their anxiety increases when the word mint is added to the conversation. Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is guilty on both counts.
Sometimes called creeping Charlie, this perennial can be an aggressive adversary in your lawn and gardens. It looks a little like catnip or Swedish ivy when you first see it.
Round leaves with scalloped edges emerge from square stems in groups of two. Running stems root at each pair of leaves and new plants begin to form. Eventually dense mats develop. If left alone it can totally take over anything in its path.
Purple two-lipped mint flowers would be quite attractive if the plant would only stay put. It won’t. The darned thing runs all over the place. I would rate it almost as difficult to control as wild violets or Florida betony.
Like many mints, ground ivy loves cool weather. That’s one reason it’s a problem in warm season turf in eastern North Carolina. In the fall many of our lawn grasses begin to go dormant, while ground ivy starts ramping up. Spreading by seed and creeping stems also makes it a double threat.
Ground ivy is also quite adaptable. It’s common throughout nearly all of North America. Only parts of northern Canada and a couple southwestern states are free from it.
This ubiquitous mint thrives in moist locations and creeps into lawns and gardens from wooded areas. It’s very tolerant of shade. Once established, ground ivy handles drought pretty well too.
While I respect this weed I’m not intimidated by it. It’s edible. In fact it’s not too bad raw in a salad or as a cooked green. Don’t boil or steam them too long or they’ll be mushy. Steeped leaves make a decent tea as well. Plants are high in vitamin C, but extended cooking will destroy it.
As with most greens, plants become bitter as they mature. Once they flower, the bitterness increases dramatically. Usually the supply is not limiting, so finding young growth is easy.
Herbalists have found numerous uses for this aggressive invader too. Its tea is used for coughs and bronchitis. Several anti-inflammatory chemicals are present in the foliage, so it’s sometimes used for arthritis. I’ve even read where it has been prescribed for ringing in the ears, stomach problems, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, bladder infections and kidney stones. Several commercial preparations can be purchased in health food stores.
Numerous side-effects are listed for this herb. It you are pregnant or have epilepsy, liver or kidney problems don’t consume it. As with all herbal supplements or medicines, always consult your medical professional before consuming any.
On another note, if you simply wish to rid ground ivy from your property several herbicides might help. Round-up (glyphosate) is effective for spot treatment applications. Mild weather is helpful, since it must be actively growing for herbicides to be effective. Round-up is probably not the best choice in your lawn unless your warm season turf is totally dormant and the weed is still actively growing.
Broad leaf weed killers like 2,4-D and dicamba are effective in lawns but they will kill your flowers. The herbicide ‘confront’ is effective on sod farms, but it’s highly toxic and not labeled for residential turf. As with Florida betony and violets there appears to be no easy solution.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).