This is the first in a series of blogs, shared with permission, about weeds in the garden. Each blog will discuss a common and specific weed found in Maine, its history, uses, what story it tells about the soil it grows in, and how to get rid of it. The original blogs, along with other gardening related blogs, can be found here.
Creeping charlie, Glechoma hederacea, is a fast growing ground cover and is actually a member of the mint family. It is also known as ground ivy, gill-over-the-ground, runaway robin, lizzie-run-up-the-hedge, alehoof, tunhoof, catsfoot and field-balm. Like many of our modern “weeds” the plant has a long and varied history of use. It was brought to North America by European settlers who ate it and used it as a ground cover. If it is especially healthy, the plant can reach 8 or 10″ tall, but typically it simply grows out, spreading rapidly once it finishes flowering in early spring.
The plant is edible. Leaves can be used in soups, salads or stews, or eaten cooked or raw like spinach or cress. It can be used in beer or cheese-making, where it is used in place of animal rennet. Both McLean and Breverton document its use in gruit for beer brewing back to the Saxons. The leaves are considered high in iron and vitamin C. Medicinally it was used to treat sciatica, indigestion and kidney disorders. It is considered useful for preventing scurvy, and for brusing or black eyes. One study showed it can help reduce tumor growth as well.
What does it mean?
In general, creeping charlie can be found growing anywhere the soils are moist and shady, and are easily able to overtake areas where the other plants are not healthy and thriving. According to Jay L. McCaman , it’s appearance also means that the soil is likely low in calcium, potash and hummus and very low in phosphate. It may not drain well, and when it is dry for too long will develop a type of crust. Finally there are probably not enough healthy aerobic bacteria in the soil.
The best way to deal with creeping charlie is to improve your general soil quality, decrease soil moisture and to provide more sun for the space. Consider trimming back treas, top-dressing the soil, adding a heavy layer of mulch and watering less frequently. If the plant is not firmly established in a space consider adding other ground covers to compete with it. The USDA states livestock tend to avoid the plant because older leaves have a bitter taste.
Borax is not considered an effective treatment for creeping charlie, despite numerous rumors online. If the above methods are unsuccessful at removing the plant, consider burning off the weed, pulling it by hand, or by covering the space with a heavy suppression system that will kill it.
Want to learn more?
If you would like to learn more about weeds, why they grow, and what that means about your garden, consider the following texts:
Weeds and Why they Grow, by Jay L. McCaman
Weeds and What They Tell Us, by Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer