Last Updated on February 23, 2021
The common garden weed creeping Charlie (also known as ground ivy) has many overlooked medicinal and culinary uses. Though it can take a little effort to embrace this easy-to-find and much-maligned garden weed, once you learn about creeping Charlie uses and medicinal benefits, and you may decide to stop fighting this useful plant and start eating it!
If you landed here because you were searching for ways to kill creeping Charlie, read on to learn why you might want to reconsider. Though you may have only regarded creeping Charlie or ground ivy as a noxious invader to your garden or lawn, this tenacious plant has long been used as a medicinal and culinary herb.
Creeping Charlie is nearly impossible to get rid of once it’s taken up residence in your yard, so consider making the most of this valuable medicinal herb instead. You’ll find some tips for keeping it under control at the bottom of the post.
Learn about these excellent creeping Charlie uses, and you may never look at it the same way again.
GETTING TO KNOW CREEPING CHARLIE USES
Just when you thought it couldn’t get weirder around here — I mean, besides posts on how to use dandelions and orange peels, I keep a running collection of how to cook up veggie scraps to cut food waste — we descend even further into the (edible) weeds, and examine one of the most detested lawn invaders out there.
(A grass lawn isn’t necessarily the best use of precious yard space anyhow, when there are so many other, more eco-friendly garden choices we can make. Here’s why to consider alternatives to grass and grow useful natural remedies and delicious edibles instead.)
You’ve probably noticed creeping Charlie’s characteristic scent when you’ve walked on it or attempted to tear it out. A member of the mint family, creeping Charlie goes by many names, including ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea, ale-hoof, gill-over-the-ground, field balm, and cat’s foot, plus all sorts of expletives uttered by exasperated lawn-lovers who can’t get rid of the stuff.
Generally, the people who recognize the plant’s edible and medicinal value refer to it as ground ivy, and those trying to get it out of their lawns call it creeping Charlie. Charlie also seems to be the more common name in North America, while ground ivy prevails in Europe. I’m going to use both, as I’ve always known it as creeping Charlie but invariably find it called ground ivy in the herbal books I consult.
I’ve been wanting to write about creeping Charlie uses for a very long time, but aside from admiring its pleasant smell, its attraction for pollinators, and ability to thrive where nothing else can, I hadn’t figured out how to put this exceptionally tenacious weed to good use.
But its abundance, medicinal properties, and its persistently green leaves — some of the last to be seen when temperatures take a nosedive for our long, cold winter and the first to hint of green things to come when the snow finally melts — made me determined to find a way to use creeping Charlie.
Creeping Charlie uses go back for centuries, so surely there are ways we might make use of this abundant plant today.
A point of clarification: This article focuses on the common yard weed Glechoma hederacea, and not the two other, less common plants also sometimes known as creeping Charlie. Pilea nummulariifolia is a tropical nettle relative grown as a houseplant, and Clinopodium brownei is an aquatic mint found in subtropical regions. Here’s more on the different creeping Charlies from Awkward Botany if you’re curious.
MEDICINAL USES FOR CREEPING CHARLIE OR GROUND IVY
As hard as it may be to believe, creeping Charlie was brought to North America on purpose by European settlers, who used it medicinally for a range of ailments. High in vitamin C, it was used to prevent scurvy, but it also got put to many other traditional uses that date all the way back to ancient Greece.
Early twentieth-century herbalist Maud Grieve reports that “From early days, Ground Ivy has been endowed with singular curative virtues, and is one of the most popular remedies for coughs and nervous headaches.” She describes a tea made from creeping Charlie as “An excellent cooling beverage,” and recommends it for stimulating digestion and addressing “kidney complaints.”
Grieve also reports that “A snuff made from the dried leaves of Ground Ivy will render marked relief against a dull, congestive headache of the passive kind,” while “The expressed juice may also be advantageously used for bruises and ‘black eyes.'”
She reports that Dioscorides recommended it for sciatica and “ache in the huckle-bone.” (Not sure what that is? I wasn’t either and looked it up. It’s an archaic term for hip).
Other creeping Charlie uses include treating tinnitus, sciatica, bruises, indigestion, tuberculosis, bronchitis, inflammation of the eyes, and lead poisoning, among many other conditions. I’ve also read the juice is helpful for alleviating the pain of nettle stings and can be added to bathwater as a skin soother and pain reliever.
Herbalists classify ground ivy as an antiviral, expectorant, diuretic, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, anodyne, digestive, anticatarrhal, antidepressant, anti-spasmodic, antiulcerogenic, tonic, astringent, carminative, decongestant, nervine, and vulnerary.
Native Americans used ground ivy to treat colds, hives, and measles.
Quite the multipurpose herb!
A small number of scientific studies have investigated creeping Charlie’s anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-cancer properties, but this ubiquitous herb hasn’t attracted the attention that some other medicinal plants have, like elderberry, for instance.
But the lack of data doesn’t mean a beloved medicinal herb with centuries of folk use doesn’t have some valuable properties. Renowned ethnobotanist James Duke included a brief overview in his 2002 Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, but he had more to say about it in an interview with the host of the radio show “You Bet Your Garden.” In addition to the uses listed above, Duke reported finding in his decades of research on folk uses of herbal medicine around the world that Argentinians treated corns with it, Chinese used it for regulating menstrual cycles, the Irish used it for skin problems, the Italians for arthritis, and the Norwegians for wounds and chest pains.
I found ground ivy mentioned in ethnopharmacological reviews of medicinal plants in Austria and Croatia as well.
Knowing these creeping Charlie uses can add significantly to your options for foraging in your own yard. Keep reading to find out how herbalists recommend using it, as well as recipes for using it as a culinary herb.
WHAT DOES CREEPING CHARLIE LOOK LIKE? GROUND IVY IDENTIFICATION
Creeping Charlie, as its name suggests, has a creeping growth habit, forming dense mats of runners wherever it gets a foothold. It has dark green fan-shaped leaves with scalloped edges. Leaves are often shiny, but covered with fine hairs, which you can see in the photo below.
Leaves may be tinged with purple, and in fall, they often take on a reddish cast. They typically range from 1-2 inches across arranged in opposite pairs along the stem. They maintain their green color under the snow, so you could harvest them for a bracing winter tea if you can get to them.
Like other members of the mint family, creeping Charlie has square stems.
Creeping Charlie flowers are tiny lavender-colored trumpets, and those who haven’t been taught to regard creeping Charlie as an unappealing invasive often comment on how pretty they are. The bees love them, too, especially early in the season when they don’t have many other sources of food.
The flowers produce big green seed pods, each containing 4 brownish seeds. I’ve found absolutely no information on their edibility, so best leave them alone. Grieve does mention that the furry galls that can form on the leaves in autumn if punctured by the Cynips glechomae wasp “have a strong flavour of the plant and are sometimes eaten by the peasantry of France.”
Creeping Charlie prefers shady, moist soils, but grows just fine in sun and drier soils as well. Because it will grow where other things don’t, if it’s invaded your yard you might consider allowing it to serve as a multipurpose groundcover where other plants struggle. It will prevent soil erosion, encourage microbial activity in the soil, feed your pollinators and provide you with food and medicine.
Below is a detailed video to help you positively identify creeping Charlie.
WHERE TO FIND CREEPING CHARLIE
Creeping Charlie is so easy to find in home landscapes, this is one herb you really don’t need to buy, as neighbors will probably give you money to come rip the stuff out of their yards. (Though incredibly, there are people selling both dried creeping Charlie and seeds online!)
Take care with whatever you bring home or you may find your own yard quickly develops a Charlie control problem.
Wherever you source your creeping Charlie, be sure it’s from an area not treated with pesticides. Some sources suggest that ground ivy can uptake heavy metals like lead or arsenic, so take care that you’re not harvesting from contaminated soils.
GROUND IVY LOOK-ALIKES
Creeping Charlie vaguely resembles purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) or henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), which are both also members of the mint family. Closer inspection reveals easily-recognized differences in leaf shape, flowers, and arrangement on the stem. This page has a nice comparison that can clarify their differences.
Both dead nettle and henbit are also edible, so in this case if you make an error, it won’t be a big deal. Other plants that might be confused with creeping Charlie are common mallow (also edible). Persian speedwell (used medicinally, but reportedly barely edible) and ponyfoot (edible, though some find it bland) are other plants with somewhat similar characteristics as ground ivy, though again, if you compare photos and descriptions, they’re easily told apart.
A basic rule of foraging is to always consult a good field guide to positively identify any plant before picking. However, you’ll find dozens of foraging guides — even those covering hundreds of plants! — that make no mention of this ubiquitous edible weed.
I went through every foraging guide I could get my hands on, and only found three books that bothered to mention it. The Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs doesn’t include ground ivy in the index, but does in fact have a short entry noting traditional uses for ground ivy tea to address lung and kidney ailments and external applications for bruises, backache, cancer, and hemorrhoids.
Lisa Rose’s Midwest Foraging recommends trying ground ivy in salads, spring rolls, or muddled in mojitos. She suggests seeking leaves with no visible dirt as washing doesn’t do much to remove it from the tiny hairs but does remove much of the flavor. She also includes ground ivy in her guide to foraging medicinal plants.
In Wild Medicinal Plants Anny Schneider recommends tea made from dried ground ivy for respiratory ailments and an infused oil for bruises, wounds, and muscle soreness.
Here are some of the best foraging books I’ve found, full of loads more delicious wild edibles and useful medicinal plants.
WHAT DOES CREEPING CHARLIE TASTE LIKE?
How to describe creeping Charlie’s unique flavor? A member of the mint family, some find the taste somewhat resembles mint with some bitterness or astringency. Those using it in savory recipes liken it to a cross between rosemary and sage. I find the flavor of the fresh plant vaguely reminiscent of licorice.
Plants can taste different in different climates and under different growing conditions, so after you’ve positively identified it, you should taste your local crop of creeping Charlie both fresh and dried to determine how its flavor will work in your next meal or cup of tea.
Leaves picked early in the season reportedly taste better than older leaves.
Some say ground ivy can be eaten like spinach in soups and casseroles, just proceed with caution. I think unlike the bland and also early Virginia waterleaf, creeping Charlie might be truly revolting in a frittata, but I haven’t dared to try. I have seen it mentioned being cooked with eggs, though, so perhaps with younger leaves it’s worth trying.
Scroll down to the recipes linked at the bottom, and you’ll find some people using ground ivy successfully in savory dishes.
If you’re just wanting to use it medicinally, a tincture might be a good bet if you’re averse to creeping Charlie’s strong flavor. Here’s how to make a tincture, a simple way to extract the medicinal compounds of herbs by steeping them in alcohol.
For culinary purposes, try using the youngest leaves or the tiny flowers. You can also dry creeping Charlie leaves for using in herbal tea.
HOW TO USE CREEPING CHARLIE/GROUND IVY
As with any herb, you always want to make sure you don’t have an adverse reaction before consuming in quantity. Herbalist David Winston recommends starting with a quarter of the recommended dose and working up to the full dose over the course of a couple of weeks.
Few herbal reference guides mention ground ivy. Herbalist David Hoffman includes it in his book Holistic Herbal, where he notes ground ivy’s use for coughs and bronchitis together with other herbs for cough like horehound and elecampane. For sinus congestion, he suggests combining it with goldenrod.
Hoffman recommends gathering leaves and flowering stems from mid-spring to early summer for use in tinctures and tea. He suggests making an infusion of 1 teaspoon dried ground ivy leaves and 1 cup of boiling water or 1-4ml of tinctured ground ivy 3 times per day to treat congestion and cough.
The easiest way to use ground ivy is in tea using either fresh or dried leaves. Cover your tea while it steeps to retain the volatile oils.
Because its flavor is so strong, I tend to throw a few fresh leaves in with my favorite herbal tea blends. Some people drink ground ivy tea on its own or with lemon and honey.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try adding a small amount of the younger leaves to salads or soups. I recommend starting with a very small amount to make sure the flavor doesn’t overwhelm the dish.
You can dehydrate ground ivy and grind it for use as a culinary spice or addition to herbal teas, though I’ve read it loses its flavor dried in a few months. Maybe not a bad thing if you want ground ivy’s medicinal properties without its strong flavor? Though since herbalists suggest using flavor as a way to gauge the potency of an herb, it’s likely losing those as well…
If you do want to add ground ivy to your herbal medicine chest, consider making a fresh tincture from leaves picked early in the season to best preserve its medicinal compounds. Susun Weed steeps ground ivy in vinegar to use on salads. (See her video at the end of the post.)
CAUTIONS WITH CREEPING CHARLIE
–> Always start with a very small amount of any new herb to make sure you don’t have a negative reaction to it. Some people may be allergic to creeping Charlie, reacting on their skin to the touch or in their mouths and throats if taken internally. Seek medical help if you have a reaction after consuming.
If you have underlying health conditions or take medications, you should always consult a physician before trying a new herb. Some herbs are contraindicated for or affect the action of certain medications.
Creeping Charlie, like some other members of the mint family, contains a compound called pulegone, which is considered harmful if consumed in large amounts. It’s also a useful insect repellent, so next time bugs bother you, if you have nothing else at the ready, try crushing some creeping Charlie and rubbing it on your skin. Here’s how to make DIY bug repellent so you’re more prepared the next time!
Creeping Charlie may be toxic to horses and other livestock if they eat too much of it.
Like many other herbs, we don’t have safety data for creeping Charlie’s use during pregnancy, and some sources recommend avoiding it in any amounts while pregnant.
Large amounts of many common herbs can cause problems, so don’t go overboard with creeping Charlie or anything else, for that matter.
GROUND IVY RECIPES
I’m not the only one trying hard to make friends with this plentiful “weed.” Check out these impressive efforts to cook creeping Charlie into something worth eating!
What to do with your bumper crop of creeping Charlie? Give these ground ivy recipes a go!
♦ Try some ground ivy salad dressing, recipe from Edible Wild Food.
♦ Make a wild herb rub like this one from Hunter Gather Cook.
♦ Forage Wild Food makes a tempting-looking asparagus and pea pilau with ground ivy.
♦ One of creeping Charlie’s many names, ale hoof, comes from its traditional use in clarifying ale. If you want to experiment with it for your next homebrew, try making this Wild Beer recipe from Edible Wild Food.
♦ Because ground ivy is considered helpful for healing bruises and skin issues, it’s something to consider adding to homemade salves, like this healing salve from the Druid’s Garden.
Renowned herbalist Susun Weed likes to make an herbal vinegar from ground ivy:
CONTROLLING CREEPING CHARLIE
Even if you do want to consume some of the creeping Charlie growing in your yard, it’s likely you’ll still be growing more than you want or can use. You can allow it to colonize some spots, but try to keep it from taking over all the other plants you prize in your yard!
Because ground ivy roots readily from fragments, it’s really hard to eradicate completely, another reason to consider making friends with it. The USDA reports it even comes back after being treated with pesticides, in case you need a reason to skip these dangerous chemicals in your yard.
Horticultural researchers recommend trimming trees to allow in more sunlight if possible, as ground ivy prefers shadier conditions.
If you do want to beat back creeping Charlie, you should handpull it carefully, trying to remove all stem pieces as they will readily re-grow. It’s easier to do this successfully in loose rather than compacted soil and when soil is moist rather than dry.
Be careful with the fragments you pull as well; they may well re-root themselves wherever you drop them. As with other invasive weeds, it’s best to keep them out of your compost.
Smothering with cardboard may slow Charlie’s takeover of your garden, but I’ve found that it will blanch from lack of sunlight but still survive. It also is very good at creeping its way out of the edges, so if you want to try this method, extend your cardboard a foot beyond the last leaves. Black plastic may work better, just make sure to cover all of it. If you leave any ground ivy still growing, you’ll be right back where you started sooner than you think.
Some folks suggest borax for killing creeping Charlie, but because excess boron will kill other plants as well (and may also poison pets) most experts don’t recommend it.
Do you love finding nutritious and delicious wild edibles? Check out some other lesser-known foraging finds:
Do you ever use ground ivy? What are your favorite creeping Charlie uses?
Pin to save these creeping Charlie uses for later!
Photo credits: jhenning, Lawn Health, Hans Braxmeier
Disclaimer: I’m a health & green living enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.