Ivy Common (_araliaceoe_)
The clergyman of fiction in the sixth chapter of Dickens' memorable
Pickwick, sings certain verses which he styles indifferent (the
only verse, by the way, to be found in all that great writer's
stories), and which relate to the Ivy, beginning thus:--
Oh! a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o'er ruins old.
The well known common Ivy (Hedera helix), which clothes the
trunks of trees and the walls of old buildings so picturesquely
throughout Great Britain, gets its botanical name most probably
from the Celtic word hoedra  a cord, or from the Greek
hedra a seat, because sitting close, and its vernacular title from
iw green, which is also the parent of yew. In Latin it is termed
abiga, easily corrupted to iva; and the Danes knew it as
Winter-grunt, or Winter-green, to which appellation it may still lay a
rightful claim, being so conspicuously green at the coldest times of
the year when trees are of themselves bare and brown.
By the ancients the Ivy was dedicated to Bacchus, whose statues
were crowned with a wreath of the plant, under the name Kissos,
and whose worshippers decorated themselves with its garlands. The
leaves have a peculiar faintly nauseous odour, whilst they are
somewhat bitter, and rough of taste. The fresh berries are rather
acid, and become bitter when dried. They are much eaten by our
woodland birds in the spring.
A crown of Ivy was likewise given to the classic poets of
distinction, and the Greek priests presented a wreath of the same to
newly married persons. The custom of decorating houses and
churches with Ivy at Christmastide, was forbidden by one of the
early councils on account of its Pagan associations. Prynne wrote
with reference to this decree:--
At Christmas men do always Ivy get,
And in each corner of the house it set,
But why make use then of that Bacchus weed?
Because they purpose Bacchus-like to feed.
The Ivy, though sending out innumerable small rootlets, like
suckers, in every direction (which are really for support) is not a
parasite. The plant is rooted in the soil and gets its sustenance
Chemically, its medicinal principles depend on the special balsamic
resin contained in the leaves and stems, as well as constituting the
 Ivy flowers have little or no scent, but their yield of nectar is
When the bark of the main stems is wounded, a gum will exude, and
may be collected: it possesses astringent and mildly aperient
properties. This was at one time included as a medicine in the
Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia, but it has now fallen out of such
authoritative use. Its chemical principle is hederin. The gum is
anti-spasmodic, and promotes the monthly flow of women.
An infusion of the berries will relieve rheumatism, and a decoction
of the leaves applied externally will destroy vermin in the heads of
Fresh Ivy leaves will afford signal relief to corns when they shoot,
and are painful. Good John Wesley, who dabbled in domestic
medicine, and with much sagacity of observation, taught that
having bathed the feet, and cut the corns, and having mashed some
fresh Ivy leaves, these are to be applied: then by repeating the
remedial process for fifteen days the corns will be cured.
During the Great Plague of London, Ivy berries were given with
some success as possessing antiseptic virtues, and to induce
perspiration, thus effecting a remission of the symptoms. Cups made
from Ivywood have been employed from which to drink for disorders
of the spleen, and for whooping cough, their method of use
being to be kept refilled from time to time with water (cold or
hot), which the patient is to constantly sip.
Ivy gum dissolved in vinegar is a good filling for a hollow tooth
which is causing neuralgic toothache: and an infusion of the leaves
made with cold water, will, after standing for twenty-four hours,
relieve sore and smarting eyes if used rather frequently as a lotion.
A decoction of the leaves and berries will mitigate a  severe
headache, such as that which follows hard drinking over night. And
it may have come about that from some rude acquaintance with this
fact the bacchanals adopted goblets carved out of Ivywood.
This plant is especially hardy, and suffers but little from the smoke
and the vitiated air of a manufacturing town. Chemically, such
medicinal principles as the Ivy possesses depend on the special
balsamic resin contained in its leaves and stems; as well as on its
particular gum. Bibulous old Bacchus was always represented in
classic sculpture with a wreath of Ivy round his laughing brows; and
it has been said that if the foreheads of those whose potations run
deep were bound with frontlets of Ivy the nemesis of headache
would be prevented thereby. But legendary lore teaches rather that
the infant Bacchus was an object of vengeance to Juno, and that the
nymphs of Nisa concealed him from her wrath, with trails of Ivy as
he lay in his cradle.
At one time our taverns bore over their doors the sign of an Ivybush,
to indicate the excellence of the liquor supplied within. From which
fact arose the saying that good wine needs no bush, Vinum
vendibile hedera non est opus. And of this text Rosalind cleverly
avails herself in As You Like It, If it be true says she, that
good wine needs no bush,--'tis true that a good play needs no