Sandy’s Garden ... Grundavy

Sandy Simpson

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The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gives an impressive list of common names for this plant.

It is known as Ale gill or Alehoof; some know it as Blue runner, Candlesticks, Cat’s foot or Cat’s paws; others call it Creeping Charlie or Creeping Jenny, Crow victuals or Crow’s guts; then again it is called Devil’s candlestick, Field balm, Field balsam, Gill, Gill-go-by-the-street, Gill-over-the-ground or Gill-run-over; and in some parts of the country it is given the names Hayfoot, Hayhoof, Hay maids or Hedge maids. And still the list of common names continues: Hen and chickens, Hove, Jill-on-the-ground, Purple chickweed, Robin-run-away, Robin-run-in-the-hedge, Runaway Robin, Tunhoof and Turnhoof bring us close to a finish. Wandering Jenny and Wild snakeroot complete the RHS list. And here is yet another common name which the RHS does not know – Grundavy, a name by which ground ivy is, allegedly, known in Scotland, although I must admit that the similarity of sound between ‘grundavy’ and ‘ground ivy’ made me wonder if grundavy is a word in its own right or simply a local dialect version of ‘ground ivy.’

I discovered that, in a book entitled, ‘The Natural History of a Highland Parish, Ardclach, Nairnshire’, which was first published in 1900, the author, Robert Thomson, had written, “Glechoma hederaceae - ‘Ground Ivy’, locally ‘Grundavy’. This is the forget-me-not of the early botanists, because it ‘left an evil taste in the mouth, not soon removed.’” So the RHS may well be right not to include ‘grundavy’ in its list of common names for the plant botanically called Glechoma hederaceae … the mint (from the Greek work glechon) which looks like ivy (hederaceae, from hedera, the Latin name for ivy) … which is most commonly called Ground Ivy.

Ground Ivy is one of the commonest of all British plants, thriving on sunny waste ground throughout the United Kingdom. It is a perennial plant which reappears year after year in the same place, throwing out long stalks in the spring, stalks which snake their way across the ground carrying small blue flowers which remain in bloom throughout the summer and autumn. Some gardeners cultivate it as a ground cover plant … it is very good at that … although most regard it as a weed, especially if it finds its way into the lawn. It has the reputation of overwhelming its neighbours … in other words, it suffocates the grass in a lawn … and is rather less common nowadays than it was in former centuries when it was widely found growing in land used as pasture; modern farming and gardening methods have succeeded in pushing Ground Ivy back to waste land.

Nor is it used by people to anything approaching the extent which was once the case. It was used by the Saxon people to clarify beer before hops were introduced into our islands; it was used for many centuries to treat coughs and nervous headaches; it was used to make Gill tea, an excellent cooling drink, which was usually sweetened with honey or liquorice; its juice was used to treat black eyes and bruises, and a snuff made from the leaves was used to relieve dull headaches. The herbalist Gerard wrote that, “It is commended against the humming noise and ringing sound of the ears, being put into them, and for them that are hard of hearing.” It was utilised in treatments for internal injuries, ulcers, jaundice, gout and sore throats: but, despite our ancestors’ belief in these many and wondrous medicinal properties, I recommend all readers to eschew any amateur attempt to emulate our forefathers’ faith in Ground Ivy. It may be found in a contemporary herbalist’s shop in treatments for sinusitis and catarrh: but its other alleged curative properties are not now held in any regard.