Ivy (ground)

This common, and very familiar little herb, with its small Ivy-like

aromatic leaves, and its striking whorls of dark blue blossoms

conspicuous in early spring time, comes into flower pretty

punctually about the third or fourth of April, however late or early

the season may be. Its name is attributed to the resemblance borne

[284] by its foliage to that of the true Ivy (Hedera helix). The

whole plant possesses a balsami
odour, and an aromatic taste, due

to its particular volatile oil, and its characteristic resin, as a

fragrant labiate herb. It remaineth green not only in summer, but

also in winter, at all times of the year.

From the earliest days it has been thought endowed with singular

curative virtues chiefly against nervous headaches, and for the relief

of chronic bronchitis. Ray tells of a remarkable instance in the

person of a Mr. Oldacre who was cured of an obstinate chronic

headache by using the juice or the powdered leaves of the Ground

Ivy as snuff: Succus hujus plantoe naribus attractus cephalalgiam

etiam vehementissimam et inveteratam non lenit tantum, sed et

penitus aufert; and he adds in further praise of the herb:

Medicamentum hoc non satis potest laudari; si res ex usu

oestimarentur, auro oequiparandum. An infusion of the fresh herb,

or, if made in winter, from its dried leaves, and drank under the

name of Gill tea, is a favourite remedy with the poor for coughs of

long standing, accompanied with much phlegm. One ounce of the

herb should be infused in a pint of boiling water, and a wineglassful

of this when cool is to be taken three or four times in the day. The

botanical name of the plant is Nepeta glechoma, from Nepet, in

Tuscany, and the Greek gleechon, a mint.

Resembling Ivy in miniature, the leaves have been used in weaving

chaplets for the dead, as well as for adorning the Alestake erected as

a sign at taverns. For this reason, and because formerly in vogue for

clearing the ale drank by our Saxon ancestors, the herb acquired the

names of Ale hoof, and Tun hoof (tun signifying a garden, and

hoof or hufe a coronal or chaplet), [285] or Hove, because,

says Parkinson, it spreadeth as a garland upon the ground. Other

titles which have a like meaning are borne by the herb, such as Gill

go by the ground, and Haymaids, or Hedgemaids; the word gill

not only relating to the fermentation of beer, but meaning also a

maid. This is shown in the saying, Every Jack should have his Gill,

or Jill; and the same notion was conveyed by the sobriquet

haymaids. Again in some districts the Ground Ivy is called Lizzy

run up the hedge, Cat's-foot (from the soft flower heads), Devil's

candlesticks, Aller, and in Germltny Thundervine, also in the

old English manuscripts Hayhouse, Halehouse, and Horshone.

The whole plant was employed by our Saxon progenitors to clarify

their so-called beer, before hops had been introduced for this

purpose; and the place of refreshment where the beverage was sold

bore the name of a Gill house.

In A Thousand Notable Things, it is stated, The juice of Ground

Ivy sniffed up into the nostrils out of a spoon, or a saucer, purgeth

the head marvellously, and taketh away the greatest and oldest pain

thereof that is: the medicine is worth gold, though it is very cheap.

Small hairy tumours may often be seen in the autumn on the leaves

of the Ground Ivy occasioned (says Miss Pratt) by the punctures of

the cynips glechomoe from which these galls spring. They have a

strong flavour of the plant, and are sometimes eaten by the

peasantry of France. The volatile oil on which the special virtues of

the Ground Ivy depend exudes from small glandular dots on the

under surface of the leaves. This is the active ingredient of Gill tea

made by country persons, and sweetened with honey, sugar, or

liquorice. Also the expressed juice of the herb is [286] equally

effectual, being diaphoretic, diuretic, and somewhat astringent

against bleedings.

Gerard says that in his day the Ground Ivy was commended against

the humming sound, and ringing noises of the ears by being put into

them, and for those that are hard of hearing. Also boiled in mutton

broth it helpeth weak and aching backs. Dr. Thornton tells us in his

Herbal (1810) that Ground Ivy was at one time amongst the

'cries' of London, for making a tea to purify the blood, and Dr.

Pitcairn extolled this plant before all other vegetable medicines for

the cure of consumption. Perhaps the name Ground Ivy was

transferred at first to the Nepeta from the Periwinkle, about which

we read in an old distich of Stockholm:--

Parvenke is an erbe green of colour,

In time of May he bereth blo flour,

His stalkes are so feynt and feye

That nevermore groweth he heye:

On the grounde he rynneth and growe

As doth the erbe that hyth tunhowe;

The lef is thicke, schinende and styf

As is the grene Ivy leef:

Uniche brod, and nerhand rownde;

Men call it the Ivy of the grounde.

In the Organic Materia Medica of Detroit, U.S.A., 1890, it is

stated, Painters use the Ground Ivy (Nepeta glechoma) as a

remedy for, and a preventive of lead colic. An infusion is given

(the ounce to a pint of boiling water)--one wineglassful for a dose

repeatedly. In the relief which it affords as a snuff made from the

dried leaves to congestive headache of a passive continued sort, this

benefit is most probably due partly to the special titillating aroma of

the plant, and partly to the copious defluxion of mucus and tears

from the nasal passages, and the eyes.