Close up of Ground Ivy Flower

Ground Ivy, aka Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea.

So a few days ago, I was wandering around in the yard, enjoying spring unfolding, and suddenly noticed this low growing plant with small blue flowers growing under and around one of our backyard willow trees. The area had a bee hive on it last year, and whatever the plant was, I had never noticed it before. Perhaps it come in on the bottom of the hive? Or maybe it just had a really good year last year and I was finally paying attention.

Upon closer examination, I guessed that it was in the mint family. It had a square stem, and the flower was the classic five united petals, with 2 lobes up and three lobes down. I didn’t look closer, as the stem tends to give mints away, but it would have also had 4 stamens total (the long tubes inside the flower that make the pollen), two long and two short. Leaves were opposite (they were growing across from each other, rather than alternating up the stem). Mints are not easily confused with the Loosestrife, Verbena and Stinging Nettle families – which can also have square stems, but have completely different flowers that look nothing like those in the mint family.

Ground Ivy plants. Glechoma hederacea.

Low growing, the plant roots at the nodes, slowly spreading across shady woody places.

Many mints are aromatic when crushed, and this one was as well, though it took me a couple of tries to notice it. It reminds me a bit of the scent of catmint (not catnip). I took some pictures and posted them on a local farm and garden Facebook group for some help with identification. We landed on Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea (it has many other common names including Creeping Charlie).  It’s native to Europe and southwestern Asia, and can be invasive in North America, but has been used medicinally and as a salad green for centuries. Interestingly, it was also used in brewing beer, before the use of hops become commonplace.

Henbit. Lamium amplexicaule.

Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule. Small pink flowers.

Henbit leaves clasp around the stem.

With Henbit, the leaves clasp around the stem. That’s very distinctive.

Henbit2

Fairly low growing and lanky, its easy to miss Henbit if you aren’t looking for it, as it tends to blend in with everything else growing.

During the discussion of the Ground Ivy, Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) also came up. Both are also common mint family plants around SE Washington, and both are also blooming right now. And all three are edible, though Henbit and Deadnettle are more likely to be eaten in a salad and the Ground Ivy more likely used in a tea. Some claim that all three are also medicinal in various ways. I feel a wild spring greens pesto coming on.

Purple Deadnettle, Lamium purpureum.

Purple Deadnettle. Lamium purpureum. Distinct coloration change on the upper leaves, and very small flowers. It’s called Deadnettle because it looks a bit like stinging nettle, but without the sting (aka dead).

Underside of purple deadnettle leaves

Note how with deadnettle, the leaves do NOT clasp the stem. But its still square. So still a mint.

Dusky pink tops of purple deadnettle are very distinctive.

Growing in clumps where it has reseeded, the dusky pink tops of purple deadnettle are very distinctive.

The mints are an interesting family of plants. Many are commonly used in cooking, from rosemary to sage to thyme to, well, of course, spearmint and peppermint. The pollinating insects including honey bees seem to love all mints in bloom. Our yard sports a lot of catnip and lemon balm, both also mints. The catnip in particular is just covered in bees when its in bloom, which keeps me from digging it out as much as I should.

Two other non-mint plants blooming right now, that are ALSO edible, are Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica – Figwort family) and Common Storksbill – aka Redstem Filaree (Erodium cicutarium – Geranium family). The Speedwell seems to just keep on going in my garden, blooming all summer in its unobtrusive but spreading way.  The storksbill, so named because the seed pod looks like a storks bill (surprise!), I’ll dutifully spread by carrying the seeds around in my socks in the fall.

Interestingly, NONE of the plants discussed here are native to the Americas. Which always makes me wonder, what native plants have we accidentally or purposefully exported to the rest of the world, and is someone writing a blog post about them right now?

Google any of these plants, using the botanical name and the word “medicinal” in the search, for much more information on the medicinal pros and cons. I’ll let you decide for yourself how much of it you take to heart, vs taking with a grain of salt.

Persian Speedwell - Veronica persica

Persian Speedwell – Veronica persica. Hard to get a good picture of the irregular flowers on this. They are TINY.

Storksbill - Erodium cicutarium.

Storksbill – Erodium cicutarium.

Hooray for spring, and knowing what plants around you are edible!

© Miles Away Farm 2018, where we have 9 turkey babies just out of the incubator, and aren’t really looking forward to a couple of days of rain, but are happy for the early spring edibles!