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The flowers are placed three or four together in the axils of the upper leaves, which often have a purplish tint and are two-lipped, of a bright purplish blue, with small white spots on the lower lip, or more rarely white or pink and open early in April. The plant continues in blossom through the greater part of the summer and autumn.
Its popular name is attributed to the resemblance borne by its foliage to that of the true Ivy.
It varies in size, as well as the degree of colour in the flower, according to its situation and remains green not only in summer, but, like the true Ivy, at all times of the year, even throughout winter, unless the frost is very severe.
Green (Universal Herbal, 1832) tells us that Ground Ivy expels the plants which grow near it, and in consequence impoverishes pastures. Cattle seem in general to avoid it, though Linnaeus says that sheep eat it; horses are not fond of it, and goats and swine refuse it. It is thought to be injurious to those horses that eat much of it, though the expressed juice, mixed with a little wine and applied morning and evening, has been said to destroy the white specks which frequently form on their eyes.
The whole plant possesses a balsamic odour and an aromatic, bitter taste, due to its particular volatile oil, contained in the glands on the under surface of the leaves. It was one of the principal plants used by the early Saxons to clarify their beers, before hops had been introduced, the leaves being steeped in the hot liquor. Hence the names it has also borne; Alehoof and Tunhoof. It not only improved the flavour and keeping qualities of the beer, but rendered it clearer. Until the reign of Henry VIII it was in general use for this purpose.
The plant also acquired the name of Gill from the French guiller (to ferment beer), but as Gill also meant 'a girl,' it came also to be called 'Hedgemaids.'
Some hairy tumours may often be seen in the autumn on the leaves of Ground Ivy, caused by the puncture of the Cynips glechomae, from which these galls spring. They have a strong flavour of the plant and are sometimes eaten by the peasantry of France.
---Part Used Medicinally---The whole herb, gathered early in May, when most of the flowers are still quite fresh.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---Diuretic, astringent, tonic and gently stimulant. Useful in kidney diseases and for indigestion.
From early days, Ground Ivy has been endowed with singular curative virtues, and is one of the most popular remedies for coughs and nervous headaches. It has even been extolled before all other vegetable medicines for the cure of consumption.
An excellent cooling beverage, known in the country as Gill Tea, is made from this plant, 1 OZ. of the herb being infused with a pint of boiling water, sweetened with honey, sugar or liquorice, and drunk when cool in wineglassful doses, three or four times a day. This used to be a favourite remedy with the poor for coughs of long standing, being much used in consumption. Ground Ivy was at one time one of the cries of London for making a tea to purify the blood. It is a wholesome drink and is still considered serviceable in pectoral complaints and in cases of weakness of the digestive organs, being stimulating and tonic, though it has long been discarded from the Materia Medica as an official plant, in favour of others of greater certainty of action. As a medicine useful in pulmonary complaints, where a tonic for the kidneys is required, it would appear to possess peculiar suitability, and is well adapted to all kidney complaints.
A fluid extract is also prepared, the dose being from 1/2 to 1 drachm. It has a bitter and acrid taste and a strong and aromatic odour.
The expressed juice of the fresh herb is diaphoretic, diuretic and somewhat astringent; snuffed up the nose, it has been considered curative of headache when all other remedies have failed. A snuff made from the dried leaves of Ground Ivy will render marked relief against a dull, congestive headache of the passive kind.
The expressed juice may also be advantageously used for bruises and 'black eyes.' It is also employed as an antiscorbutic, for which it has a long-standing reputation. Combined with Yarrow or Chamomile Flowers it is said to make an excellent poultice for abscesses, gatherings and tumours.
In America, painters used the Ground Ivy as a preventive of, and remedy for lead colic, a wineglassful of the freshly-made infusion being taken frequently.
The infusion is also used with advantage as a wash for sore and weak eyes.
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