When a plant has this many nicknames, you know it has been special to humans for a long time. Glecoma hederaceae, known more commonly in my neck of the woods as creeping Charlie, alehoof, gill over the ground or ground ivy, has a heavenly aroma when prepared as a tea or extract.
It has been employed for centuries as a respiratory support, helping to clear sinuses, lungs and ear complaints.
Get to Know Creeping Charlie
Ingestion of this plant does not come with cautions. But, before harvesting for the first time, please have a knowledgeable person there with you to corroborate its identification. Once you have smelled and tasted creeping Charlie, you will have the sensory input you need to gain confidence next time.
Creeping Charlie is widespread here (in the eastern states) as a common “pest” in the mulched garden or landscape. It provides fresh aerial parts to harvest nearly year round.
If you really can’t find it in the garden or the wild, some nurseries sell ornamental varieties. You will, however, want to smell those to be sure that aromatic qualities are present. That’s the good stuff you want flavoring your teas and getting into your sinuses as you inhale its steam.
Creeping Charlie loves to run along disturbed moist areas and seems to have almost no roots. It’s interesting that its aerial parts are most dominant, while the plant itself has an affinity for the parts of our body used to breathe.
Read more: Check out these 5 tips for drying homegrown herbs.
Harvesting Creeping Charlie
Harvesting creeping Charlie is easy! Regeneration is not a concern with this plant, as it grows in quantity. We can just grab it by the handful and its tiny roots give way, leaving behind broken strands that will quickly recolonize. But do consider the folk herbalists’ tradition of giving thanks to this abundant plant that can be gathered almost as easily as air, and whose benefits will increase with your gratitude.
You can usually find a friend who does not use weed killers or other harmful sprays and is happy to have help removing ground ivy from their pathways and beds. Their frustration may even ease a bit when they taste the fresh salad you share or clear a cough with the extract you trade.
When you have correctly identified creeping Charlie, pinch it between your fingers to smell its aromatic offerings and begin to create a sensory memory in your brain. Then put a leaf in your mouth and chew very slowly. Or let it dissolve as if it were a lozenge.
If that leaves you with a good taste in your mouth, you’ve got a new addition to fresh salads or a secret soup ingredient with which to stump your guests.
Above all—and ideally before you decide to go to the effort of harvesting a lot of ale wort—celebrate meeting this plant with a cup of tea! I hope you love it as much as I do, but, of course, no plant is for everyone.
Taste and see for yourself with a few handfuls into a quart jar of just-boiled water. Steep covered for about 10 minutes. This will introduce you to the plant and teach you at what strength you most like it.
Preserving Creeping Charlie
The strongest aromas (and herbal potency) will be found in the flowering plant harvested midmorning, after dew has evaporated but before the sun draws insects to the flowers.
However, the best time to harvest any herb is when you know you‘ll have time to finish the processing part of preserving it. Don’t let it sit on the counter for days. Put it in the dehydrator immediately (at 80 degrees or less for herbs). Or hang it up in paper bags, filling bags only about a third full, out of the sun and with good air circulation.
You‘ll know it’s ready to put up into airtight containers when the crispy leaves break when bent. They’re too dry if they crumble to dust.
This plant loses its potency, flavor and color at the same rate. So while the shelf life is shorter than many dried herbs (about three months), you‘ll be able to observe the loss of color and flavor and decide for yourself when it’s time to renew your supply. The flowers are especially telling as they transform with time from brilliant blue to pale grey.
For in-depth herbal uses and more help with identification, check out this article from one of the most accessible experienced teachers in the eastern U.S., Jim McDonald.
Note: This information is for educational purposes and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure disease. The FDA does not evaluate herbal actions.