Solstice Blessings to you!

This shortest day certainly has all the mist and magical low sunlight that I enjoy at Yuletide. I hope that you are able to get outside and enjoy some of it, especially before 10am, when being out in fresh air, preferably in some degree of greenness, has been found to have the biggest positive impact on your mental health.

Today, I have set new dates for foraging walks and apprenticeship workshops throughout January and February. They are listed here and on Meetup. I also welcome a small group of new Urban Herbology Apprentices to my course today, as a celebration of Yuletide. The latest group is now complete but if you are interested to join the next one, which will start on 1st February, please read through the information on my Courses page and then get in touch with me.

Winter herbs to lift your spirits and immunity
My next few posts will be about locally growing “weedy” herbs which may help to lift your spirits and immunity through the winter months. The first one to look at is Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), known as Hondstraf in Dutch and le gléchome lierre terrestre, in French.

Ground ivy is a power packed shade-loving perennial plant, which creeping unnoticed throughout parks and gardens, could help you out if you catch a slimy cold. This plant belongs to the mint family and likes to grow in the shade of flowers, shrubs and trees. It needs that shade through the summer months but when autumn leaves fall, Ground ivy becomes glossy and full of energy, because it can access just the right amount of light for its needs.

Although we can forage this plant year round in Amsterdam, winter is my preferred time to harvest it, perhaps because this is the time when we most need its help.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) releases a strong aromatic scent, when the leaves are crushed and many people find this uplifting. It has square stems and leaves which come off the stem in alternate pairs just like most other members of the Lamiaceae plant family. Thyme, Rosemary and Sage are also in the mint family; If you take a close look at their flowers, they are all similar to the pretty little purple flowers of Ground ivy.

Ground ivy has been used in Europe since ancient times, to flavour and clarify ale, to calm fevers and chronic coughs, and to clear mucus from the nose, throat, ears and sinuses. It can also be helpful for acid indigestion and some stomach upsets. So it could be a great choice for a foraged herb tea, when you next catch a cold, have a stuffy headache, feel mentally blocked or to help you to digest a heavy festive meal.  There are more scientifically proven uses for this herb, so if it grows in a clean space near you, and you like the taste, I recommend you find out more about it. An interesting place to start your investigations, could be what Mrs Grieve had to say about ground ivy, in her 1931’s Modern Herbal.

A word of caution
Although most herbalists like myself, consider this a safe herb, especially when taken as a tea or occasional nibble, it should not be taken by pregnant women. And of course, as you already know, we are all quite individual, so do notice how you feel with the first sips of a mild ground ivy tea and don’t continue, if you feel it is not for you in any way.

So how can we use ground ivy?
I suggest that you keep some ground ivy aside, when you next find it when out foraging or want to weed it out from your garden. Brush off any dirt, maybe pick off the roots, discard any brown leaves before placing it in a paper bag. Label the bag (date and plant name) and leave it somewhere cool and dry for a few weeks. Allow the ground ivy to dry to a crisp. You could then crumble the dry leaves into a labelled jam jar. They should keep well for a year and could make a great base for a garden weed tea blend. Or use it alone when needed, by adding up to one teaspoon per cup of hot water. Let it mellow for 10 minutes before straining and sipping the infusion. 

Another simple way to use ground ivy, is to infuse it in runny honey. Simply fill a clear glass jar with clean fresh leaves, then pour over a good quality runny honey. Poke gently up and down through this minty gooey mix with a chopstick, to let any air bubbles out, then top up with a little more honey. Let this one mellow in a cool dark place at home for about six weeks. After which you could use it in drinks and deserts, or just take a teaspoonful directly, to soothe a sore throat.

For those of you who prefer your medicine a little stronger, replace the honey with vodka or a strong Jenever, to make Ground ivy tincture. Just a few drops are taken for colds and ear congestion. Or, if you like to homebrew your own beer, why not try making a traditional ale using some ground ivy in your mix, for a change. I will add some traditional recipes for that next time. 

Foraging and gardening for mental health
If you would like to find ground ivy with me this week, or in January, there are currently two spaces remaining on my Friday 23rd December herb walk in Park Frankendael, or you may like to join one of my Foraging for Mental Health workshops, at Mediamatic in Central Amsterdam, (close to the Scheepvaart Museum and Central Station). Next Mental Health workshop will be 24th January 2023. Links for booking are on my events page.

Also, if you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty, there is lots of ground ivy, growing in the community garden which I run in Park Frankendael. So contact me, if you would like to help out there sometimes, or if you would like to know where that ground ivy grows.


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