Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ground Ivy - The First Wild Green

What a long, tedious winter this has been. It seems as though it will never end, although I know it must. But any hopes for a respite any time soon seem in vain. It snows every other day now and sometimes, every day. And each night, temperatures dip down to zero and stay there until mid-morning, when the sun, if it becomes visible at all, drives the mercury up into the teens.

The ice storm that hit Maine in December caused me the loss of some of my frozen foods, including frozen fiddleheads. I have plenty of frozen dandelions left, though, as well as some of the home-canned variety. But I’m tired of canned and frozen food. I want something fresh. Sure my homemade produce keeps me well-nourished, but it still seems that some vitamins and minerals from a fresh source would help my body and lift my spirits.

To that end, I’m looking for a perennial plant that will become available just as soon as the snow begins to melt just a little bit and withdraws from around the base of my greenhouse. There, hardy vines of ground ivy await. These should be just as nice and green as the day they became snow-covered early last winter.

Ground ivy, or gill-over-the-ground, was once known as “alehoof.” Brewers used it to tone up and preserve beer, well before hops came into general use. But it’s not for beer that I want ground ivy. It’s for its ultra-high vitamin C content.

Ground ivy was once said to cure “painter’s colic,” which we now know was nothing more than lead poisoning from using lead-based paints. Vitamin C combats bad effects of lead. But vitamin C also does far more than that and recent studies show it to be an alternative treatment for certain cancers and in some cases can either complement or augment chemotherapy. That’s saying a lot for any wild herb.

Lots of vitamins C and A seem like a good way for anyone to ward off late-winter woes. That’s why old-timers referred to spring greens in general as “spring tonic.” Their vitamin-starved systems responded well to heaping doses of vitamins and minerals served up by bowls of fresh-picked wild greens.

So my longing for a strong cup of ground ivy tea makes sense in view of me wanting more vitamins. Besides that, ground ivy is a very bitter herb, and as such serves as an appetite stimulant. And my appetite has been lacking lately, probably the victim of winter ennui and lack of inertia because of forced confinement indoors while the snow falls and temperatures range in the single numbers.

Tonight, while listening to the winter wind howl as yet another storm pelts Midcoast Maine, I’ll drop off to sleep with dreams of ground ivy dancing in my head. And soon, hopefully, my longing for that first wild plant of the year will be assuaged in the form of a steaming-hot cup of ground ivy tea. That can’t happen too soon, either. As I said earlier, it’s been a long, cold winter. 

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