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Raid Your Lawn for Your New Favorite Herb: Ground Ivy

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Raid Your Lawn for Your New Favorite Herb: Ground Ivy

Marie Viljoen May 20, 2024

For months, from early spring to the edges of summer, ground ivy’s tubular blue flowers announce its (often resented) presence in sunny lawns or in the high shade of garden or woodland trees. Its leaves are tiny and toothed; when nights are still cold and crisp, they are more burgundy than green, and its earliest flowers are periwinkle-blue. In lawns that are mown regularly the plants form compact, woven mats. Left to grow, they become slender and tall, festooned with flowers that turn gradually paler as the weather warms.

Crush a stem, and sniff its leaves: minty, with an oregano undertow. Collect a handful to scatter across a salad, to muddle into a drink, or to brew into a strawberry and rhubarb cordial (find that recipe below).

Photography by Marie Viljoen.

Above: A lawn blooms blue with ground ivy in early spring.

Ground ivy’s strong flavor and refreshing scent make it an appealing, low maintenance, and cold-hardy culinary herb. Botanically, it is Glechoma hederaceae, a potent perennial member of the mint family. Although it is credited with many other common names in English, the two that are most familiar are creeping Charlie and gill-over-the-ground. The latter name’s etymology gives us a clue to one of its uses: “gil” is derived from guiller—to ferment, in French; ground ivy was used in beer-making. It is native to Europe and and has long been used as a medicinal, culinary, and brewing herb.

Above: Ground ivy is impervious to mowing, and forms dense, steppable carpets.

While its spread can be aggressive where it is not native, its threat seems to be mainly to lawns. In the context of the persistent mania for a weed-free lawn monoculture (whose success often depends on herbicide use and a lot of synthetic fertilizer), I find this lawn weed hard to dislike.

Above: In early spring ground ivy’s leaves are tinged with burgundy, especially if it grows in full sun.
Above: Left unmown, ground ivy can grow tall before its stems flop to the ground, where they take root.
Above: A bowl of ground ivy on a rainy spring day.
Above: Cucumber, salted rhubarb slices, and sheep feta with pomegranate molasses and ground ivy.

I like to scatter its pretty flowers across salads where their piercing freshness is offset by juicy or salty elements.

Above: Ground ivy has become one of my favorite herbs to pair with strawberries.

Eaten as a simple dessert, the leaves and flowers of the herb seem to bring out the sweetness even in supermarket berries.

Above: Mise en place for a memorable (and easy-to-make) cordial.

Recently, I turned that happy fruit-and-herb combination into a cordial (meaning, a concentrated syrup meant to be drunk diluted) where strawberries, rhubarb, grapefruit peel, and ground ivy are combined in a jar with sugar and left to macerate. A gorgeous syrup forms within a few hours. While it can be used immediately, cut with chilled water or seltzer, or shaken into a drink, it tastes much better—and even more complex—after at least a week. Once strained, the leftover fruit, with a cup of extra water, can be cooked down quickly into an almost-instant jam. Nothing is wasted.

Above: Sliced strawberries and rhubarb with ground ivy in an 8-cup mason jar.
Above: Ground ivy offers a minty background for the fruit and the tart rhubarb.
Above: When all the ingredients are in the jar, a good shake will distribute the sugar evenly.
Above: Just three hours after combining the ingredients, syrup has formed.
Above: After straining and bottling, keep the cordial in the fridge.
Above: The leftovers are delicious braised with duck or roast carrots, and also make excellent jam.
Above: The cordial with chilled sparking water.
Above: With gin and tonic water.
Above: The Strawberry Lawn—1 oz gin, 1 oz lemon juice, 1/2 oz Strawberry Rhubarb Ground Ivy Cordial; shaken with ice.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Cordial with Ground Ivy

Makes about 4 cups/1,000 ml of cordial

The finished syrup is sipped at an ounce (30ml) or less at a time, so don’t be tempted to cut back on the sugar, which is what draws the juices out magically to make this scarlet syrup. Left in the jar for a week, or even two, the cordial will begin to ferment slowly, and will mellow and grow more complex in flavor. I like to use organic sugar and strawberries.

  • 1 lb strawberries, washed, hulled, sliced
  • Washed peel of 1 medium ruby grapefruit
  • 5 oz rhubarb (around 1 chunky stalk or 2 medium stalks), washed, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup tightly packed ground ivy leaves, flowers and tender stems

Combine all the ingredients in a large, clean 8-cup mason jar. Screw the lid on and shake until the sugar is well distributed. Loosen the lid. You will notice syrup forming after an hour. After about 3 hours it will cover the fruit. Leave out on the counter,

Shake the jar every day, or a few times a day. I like to leave it out for a week at room temperature, always with a loosened lid (in case fermentation causes a build-up of CO2, and a bright red bomb).

You can use the cordial as soon as you see syrup forming but you will notice a real change in flavor as time passes. Strain it after a week, bottle, and keep in the fridge (or f you must, on the counter with a slightly loosened cap). It is very good with tonic, seltzer, prosecco, mezcal, gin, white rum…

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