Herb: Ivy

Latin name: Hedera helix

Family: Araliaceae (Ginseng Family)

Medicinal use of Ivy:

Ivy is a bitter aromatic herb with a nauseating taste. It is often used in folk herbal remedies, especially in the treatment of rheumatism and as an external application to skin eruptions, swollen tissue, painful joints, burns and suppurating cuts. Recent research has shown that the leaves contain the compound "emetine", which is an amoebicidal alkaloid, and also triterpene saponins, which are effective against liver flukes, molluscs, internal parasites and fungal infections. The leaves are antibacterial, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, cathartic, diaphoretic, emetic, emmenagogue, stimulant, sudorific, vasoconstrictor, vasodilator and vermifuge. The plant is used internally in the treatment of gout, rheumatic pain, whooping cough, bronchitis and as a parasiticide. Some caution is advised if it is being used internally since the plant is mildly toxic. Excessive doses destroy red blood cells and cause irritability, diarrhoea and vomiting. This plant should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. An infusion of the twigs in oil is recommended for the treatment of sunburn. The leaves are harvested in spring and early summer, they are used fresh and can also be dried.

Description of the plant:


15 m
(49 feet)

October to

Habitat of the herb:

Woodlands, hedges and shady places, climbing up trees, walls etc and clambering over the ground. Found on all types of soils.

Edible parts of Ivy:

Although they are almost certainly not edible, there is a report that the seeds contain 16.2% protein and 35.1% fat.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow and a brown dye are obtained from the twigs. A decoction of the leaves is used to restore black fabrics and also as a hair rinse to darken the hair. If the leaves are boiled with soda they are a soap substitute for washing clothes etc. An excellent ground cover for shady places, succeeding even in the dense shade of trees. A very effective weed suppresser. The cultivars "Hibernica", "Lutzii" and "Neilsonii" have been especially mentioned. Plants can be grown along fences to form a hedge. The variety "Digitata" is very useful for this. Plants have been grown indoors in pots in order to help remove toxins from the atmosphere. It is especially good at removing chemical vapours, especially formaldehyde. The plants will probably benefit from being placed outdoors during the summer. The wood is very hard and can be used as a substitute for Buxus sempervirens (Box), used in engraving etc. Another report says that the wood is very soft and porous and is seldom used except as a strop for sharpening knives.

Propagation of Ivy:

Seed - remove the flesh, which inhibits germination, and sow the seed in spring in a cold frame. Four weeks cold stratification will improve germination. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the cold frame for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a shady position in a frame. Good percentage. Cuttings of mature wood, 12cm long, November in a cold frame. Layering. Plants often do this naturally.

Cultivation of the herb:

Woodlands, hedges and shady places, climbing up trees, walls etc and clambering over the ground. Found on all types of soils.

Known hazards of Hedera helix:

The plant is said to be poisonous in large doses although the leaves are eaten with impunity by various mammals without any noticeable harmful affects. The leaves and fruits contain the saponic glycoside hederagenin which, if ingested, can cause breathing difficulties and coma. The sap can cause dermatitis with blistering and inflammation. This is apparently due to the presence of polyacetylene compounds.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.