Herb to Know: Creeping Charlie

  • Photograph by J.G. Strauch, Jr.

Genus: Glechoma hederacea
Pronunciation: (Glee-KO-muh hed-ur-AY-see-uh)
Family: Lamiaceae

• Prostrate perennial herb with square stems to 21/2 feet long
• Hardy in Zones 4 through 9
• Round, scalloped leaves on long stalks
• Small violet flowers in spring
• Leaves once used in medicine and brewing beer
• Tenacious weed; variegated cultivar grown in hanging baskets

Long ago, brewers and herbalists appreciated this indestructible plant with glossy green leaves and pretty violet flowers. Today’s gardeners hate the way it invades lawns and flowerbeds, but a few tolerate its better-behaved variegated form.

The genus Glechoma comprises twelve species of creeping perennial herbs native to Eurasia. They were formerly assigned to the genus Nepeta, the catmints, but are now separated on the basis of technical characters. G. hederacea is well established as a weed throughout much of North America. The name Glechoma is a Greek word once applied to pennyroyal or another member of the mint family. Hederacea means “like Hedera,” a genus of ivy, and refers to this herb’s creeping habit, as do many of its common names: besides creeping Charlie, ground ivy, gill-over-the-ground, runaway Robin, and Lizzie-run-up-the-hedge are just a few of the alternatives.

Creeping Charlie has fibrous roots that form along its square, typical-mint-family stems; as you try to weed it out of your garden, the stems break, leaving rooted bits that readily form new plants. The leaves, shiny green on top, paler below, and arranged in pairs along the stem, are round or kidney-shaped with scalloped edges and are borne on stalks that range from a few inches to a foot long in the most robust plants. The leaves are typically 3/4 to 1 inch across but may reach 2 inches on plants grown in fertile soil. They are evergreen in mild climates.

The flowering stems are somewhat erect, about 8 inches tall, and clothed in fairly small leaves. The flowers, about 3/4 inch long, are borne in threes in the leaf axils in late spring. The violet corollas are two-lipped: the upper lip is small and two-lobed; the lower one has three much larger lobes, the central one largest of all. The flowers are of two kinds, pistillate (having only female reproductive structures) and perfect (having both male and female structures). They are pollinated by bumblebees and flowerflies. The fruit consists of four smooth, ovoid brown nutlets less than 1/8 inch across.

Running the lawn mower over creeping Charlie releases a somewhat astringent odor very different from that of turf grass and nothing like the “minty” or “balsamic” scents that some authors have reported.

6/12/2018 9:53:26 AM

Our Goats eat it with gusto. It is one of the first weeds eaten when they are put into a new lot.

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