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What is a Creeping Charlie?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2016
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Creeping Charlie is an herbaceous perennial plant in the mint family. This plant is native to Europe, where it has been cultivated since at least time of the Ancient Greeks, and it has historically been used in a variety of ways. Outside of Europe, some people regard creeping Charlie as an invasive plant, and in fact some gardeners go to great length to control or eradicate it. That aside, many garden stores sell creeping Charlie, sometimes offering several cultivars.

This plant has rounded to heart-shaped leaves which can vary in color from green to purple, and purple to blue flowers. Like other mints, creeping Charlie has square stems, and it is also very aromatic, releasing a minty smell when crushed. As the “creeping” in the name would suggest, creeping Charlie has a sprawling growth habit, putting out runners which will develop adventitious shoots and root if given a chance to do so.

A number of alternate names are used to refer to creeping Charlie, including alehoof, gill-over-the-ground, creeping Jenny, and ground ivy. Formally, creeping Charlie is known as Glechoma hederacea, leading some gardeners to call it “Glechoma.” Historically, this plant was prescribed medicinally to make eyewashes and tisanes for indigestion, although creeping Charlie can in fact be toxic, and it is very dangerous for cats and dogs. The Saxons also used creeping Charlie in beer production, adding it as a clarifying agent to pull impurities out of their beer.

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Gardeners grow creeping Charlie as an ornamental because it spreads quickly and it can be quite attractive. It thrives in damp, dark environments as well, which can be an advantage in a garden which does not get a lot of sun. Creeping Charlie can be used to create a block of greenery under a shade tree or on the shaded side of a hill, and it requires little maintenance. Europeans brought the plant with them when they settled in new places out of a desire to grow familiar plants in their gardens.

Some people regard creeping Charlie as a pest, especially in lawns. The hardiness of this plant can make it difficult to eradicate, as the runners can take root anywhere and the plant also distributes itself with seeds, making it almost impossible to control. Allowing lawns to grow high, trimming bushes and trees for more light exposure, and watering infrequently can help discourage creeping Charlie, for people who find this plant undesirable.

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StarJo
Post 4

We always called this “creeping Jenny.” I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it for sale in a seed catalog! I thought everyone viewed it as a nuisance!

In the summertime, I made a few extra bucks by weeding some neighbor’s gardens. Once, I pulled a whole bunch of creeping Jenny from a lady’s vegetable garden. It was growing amongst the heads of lettuce and cabbage, and I truly thought she wanted it gone.

When she saw what I had done, she was furious! She had been using the weed in her salads, right along with her green-leaf lettuce. I had to apologize and reseed the area.

OeKc05
Post 3

While I was growing up, I would see creeping Charlie and comment on the pretty purple flowers. Daddy would always say, “Aw, that weed! It’s no good.” I didn’t see the harm in enjoying free beauty.

Now that I’m grown, I allow creeping Charlie to grow in my garden. I have a row of thick daylilies, and in the spring when they reemerge, the lovely purple weeds grow in between them. The lilies eventually grow high enough to overshadow the weeds, but the pretty purple bits of color and the silver greenery really fill in the spaces in the meantime.

cloudel
Post 2

@wavy58 - creeping Charlie does make a good salad base. If you want to make a positive identification before using it to be safe, just snap the stem and see if it smells minty. To be extra sure, you could take a sample of it to your local extension office.

Though I’m sure it would go well with vegetables, I prefer using it with melons. Watermelon and honeydew taste great with the minty, peppery flavor of this green.

Most people want to kill their creeping Charlie, but I say, “Hey! It’s free salad greens!” I understand your hesitation to try it, but you will be glad if you do.

wavy58
Post 1

Fascinating! I never knew that this weed covering my yard could be used in a salad, or that it belonged to the mint family!

I have been around creeping Charlie all my life, or rather, it has been around me. When I lived in an area deeply shaded by large trees, it grew everywhere. When I moved to a more sunny, open location, it grew there, too. This little plant seems very persistent and adaptable!

I wish I had the courage to try it in a salad. I’m just too afraid of getting sick. I bet it would taste good as a base for some cucumber and tomatoes.

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