In April the electric purple flowers of ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) start to appear amongst the grass. In milder areas they can be seen as early as March. Ground ivy is softly hairy and has kidney shaped leaves with toothed edges arranged in opposite pairs on the square stems. Another useful identifying feature of ground ivy is the long stalks which attach the leaves to the stems.
Grows in a range of habitats
The flowering stems grow 10-20 cm high while the bulk of the plant sprawls over the ground. It spreads by creeping rhizomes; underground horizontal stems, which send out roots and shoots. Spreading over the ground in this manner can crowd out competition and result in dense mats visible from a distance when the flowers are out. ground ivy grows in a range of habitats; woodland, scrub, hedge banks and grassland. As with many plants the flower colour is not entirely fixed; while generally purple Ground Ivy can sometimes be seen with pink flowers.
Culinary and medicinal properties
Ground ivy is native to Europe and south west Asia. It was taken to North America, where it has now naturalised, by early European settlers because of its culinary and medicinal properties. Before the introduction of hops Ground Ivy was used in brewing to give a bitter taste to beer. If you crush the stems and leaves a somewhat resinous smell is released. This smell is the aromatic oils that the plant manufactures. The oils are used by the plant for purposes such as repelling insects. The properties of the oils present in the plant were used in traditional medicine, and are currently being investigated for their pharmacological activity.
Good for bees and teas
While the bright flowers draw the eye and are attractive to insects often humming with bumble bees on a sunny day it is the young shoots that are the most interesting to the forager. The soft flowering tops can be dried and used to make a bright green aromatic tea.