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Ivy - Clingy, Luscious & Misunderstood by Heather


Common name(s): ivy, common ivy, Atlantic ivy, English ivy

Scientific name: Hedera helix

Family: Araliaceae

Flowering season: September to November

Habitat: woodland, urban areas, parks and gardens


Ivy is often accused of strangling trees, but it doesn’t harm the tree, it even supports more than 50 species of wildlife.

An evergreen, woody climber which can grow to a height of 30m, ivy has two different forms – juvenile and mature. It has climbing stems with specialised hairs which help it stick to surfaces as it climbs, whilst once mature, it can be self-supporting. Only mature plants produce flowers, which are yellowish green and appear in small, dome-shaped clusters known as umbels. The fruits are black, berry-like clusters.


There are two native subspecies of ivy in the UK: Hedera helix ssp. helix and Hedera helix ssp. hibernica. The latter does not climb but spreads across the ground. There are also many cultivated varieties of ivy, with differing leaves which are variable in size, colour, number and depth of lobes. The leaves are often variegated green with white, cream or yellow.


English ivy can be used as an eco-friendly alternative to laundry detergent, as it is rich in saponin, which is a natural detergent and foaming substance. It’s a surfactant that is effective at lifting grease, dirt and grime from clothing. The more saponin a plant has, the better it will clean, and ivy leaves are full of it. e a decoction. Here are the steps to follow to make your English ivy laundry detergent –


Preparation Time: 25min

Total time: about 14 hours

Makes enough for 6 loads of laundry.

Materials and ingredients:

60 English ivy leaves (Hedera helix)

4.5 cups of water

Gloves (for people with sensitive skin)

A foraging basket/bag

Large pan

A coffee filter or cheesecloth

Vinegar (optional)


1. Go foraging for English ivy (Hedera helix)!

2. Put your gloves on and collect the leaves. The sap from the English ivy can cause skin irritations. Wearing gloves is a preventative measure in case you have sensitive skin. Collect 60 English ivy leaves.

3. Rinse and scrunch the leaves in your hands, leave the gloves on if you have sensitive skin. Put the leaves in a pan and add 4.5 cups of water, place on your stove and bring the water to a boil. Let it boil for 15 minutes.

4. Let the ivy tea cool for about half a day. Then, squeeze the leaves by hand (with gloves on) so that their juices drip out. Discard the leaves into your compost pile. Filter into a jar by using a coffee filter or cheesecloth.

5. For each load of laundry, add ¾ cups of this mix. This recipe makes enough for about 3 loads of laundry.

6. To make your English ivy laundry detergent keep longer, store it in your fridge or add a little bit of vinegar to it (at a 1:5 ratio).


The English ivy laundry detergent is perfect for wool clothes and delicates! It isn’t meant for is your children’s cloth nappies/diapers or clothes that are filthy and stained.


Do not confuse English Ivy with: Boston ivy and poison ivy. These both come from North America and are unrelated to ivy. The sap of poison ivy contains a compound which causes an irritant rash when any part of the plant is touched.

Ground ivy is another unrelated species, which may be confused for ivy. It is a European herb in the mint family and was used to brew ale.



Mythology and symbolism


Ivy was a symbol of fidelity and so priests would present a wreath of ivy to newly married couples. It is still the custom for bridal bouquets to contain a sprig of ivy.


As with other evergreen plants, ivy has traditionally been thought to have a spiritual significance, and in winter is still brought into homes, although many will not know originally this was to drive out evil spirits.


In Ancient Rome it was believed that a wreath of ivy could prevent a person from becoming drunk, hence why such a wreath was worn by Bacchus, the god of intoxication.


Ivy bushes or ivy-wrapped poles have traditionally been used to advertise taverns in the UK, many pubs are still called The Ivy.


The clinging nature of ivy makes it a symbol of love and friendship, and as it clings to dead trees and remains green, it was also viewed as a symbol of the eternal life of the soul after the death of the body.


The Christmas carol, The Holly and the Ivy, uses ivy as a symbol for the Virgin Mary.


Ivy-covered ruins were a staple of the Romantic movement in landscape painting, possibly representing the transience of human activities, when weighed beside the awe-inspiring power of nature. It is the image of ivy-covered historic buildings which gave the name Ivy League to a group of old and prestigious American universities.

Magical Correspondences -

Gender: Feminine

Planet: Saturn, Moon

Element: Water

Deity: Ariadne, Artemis, Arianrhod, Cerridwen, Dionysus, Bacchus, Osiris

Powers: healing, protection, love, death and rebirth, binding, transformation, friendship, luck, divination, abundance, fidelity.


Sources and further reading -

The Secret Craft of the Wise - Magical Herbalism by Scott Cunningham

A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Plants & Herbs by Rachel Patterson


Image from Unsplash

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In fact Ivy can support trees. Here in the South of the Black Forest we have a lot of spruce trees that are week because of climate change and bark beetles. Those trees who are surrounded by Ivy vines stand much more stable. In the Ogham the spiralling Ivy stands for transformation. It's kenning is : "Ivy, spiral of revelation, search for self brings transformation." A special feature of Ivy is that it blooms late in the year, here around the middle of October. It feeds wild bees, especially when it is located in the sunshine. It's berries ripen very early in the year, so in January/ February it feeds the birds.

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