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
r /> 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 [281] 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

aromatic gum.

[282] Ivy flowers have little or no scent, but their yield of nectar is

particularly abundant.

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 [283] 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