Common ivy (Hedera helix L., 1753) is a shrubby species, an evergreen lianosa from the Araliaceae family.
From the systematic point of view it belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, United Plantae, Magnoliophyta Division, Magnoliopsida Class, Apiales Order, Araliaceae Family and therefore to the Genus Hedera and to the H. helix Species.
There are some subspecies:
– Hedera helix subsp. Canariensis;
– Hedera helix subsp. Helix;
– Hedera helix subsp. hibernica;
– Hedera helix subsp. poetarum;
– Hedera helix subsp. Rhizomatifera.
The term Hedera comes from the Latin name hĕdĕra (in Pliny and Virgil), assonant with hadaéreo adhere.
The specific epithet helix comes from the Greek ἔλιξ -ῐκος helix –ikos twisting, spiral: in reference to the stems that wrap around each other by twisting.
Geographical Distribution and Habitat –
The common ivy grows close to ruins, on trees but also in shady undergrowth, both in creeping and clinging form.
In Italy it is present throughout the territory and its habitat is that of an ubiquitous plant, invasive, vegetating spontaneously and clinging to walls, rocks, trunks, or adhering to the ground, becoming ground cover, always preferring cool, damp and shady places where it can grow from 0 to 1,450 m asl.
Hedera helix is a shrubby plant, evergreen lianosa, climbing or creeping on the ground and rooting.
It has twining stems that adhere by means of adventitious roots, emitted at the nodes of the ramifications, to any element that allows their vertical development, where this does not occur they assume creeping behavior by adhering to the ground.
The stems have a herbaceous consistency when young to become semi-woody and hairy over time due to the presence of adventitious roots.
The bark is first smooth and glabrous, then rough, to become, in the older ones, greyish and fissured.
The plant can reach up to 20 m in length.
In the non-floriferous branches we find characteristic leaves with 3 or 5 lobes of light and dark green color, ideal for covering walls or trunks of trees. In the flowering branches the leaves are instead rhomboid-shaped ovate.
The flowers consist of five green petals gathered in spherical umbels. The first flowering occurs at about 10 years of age.
Flowering occurs between September and November and the first berries ripen in November and remain on the plant all winter.
The fruits are ovoid globose berries, first green, then reddish, black-bluish when ripe, containing 2 or 3 kernels with paper endocarp. The seeds are oblong, wrinkled and reddish.
For the cultivation of the common ivy remember that the ideal temperature is around 15 ° C, while the minimum winter temperature is between 0 and 7 ° C.
In winter, the plant prefers fresh environments, although there are varieties on the market that are also suitable for heated environments (eg Golden Gate and Golden Ingot).
Light requirements also vary with the different varieties. It should however be kept in mind that plants with mottled leaves need more bright environments than those with dark green leaves, which can adapt to much darker places, such as entrances or corridors. Ivy with variegated yellow leaves also bear direct exposure to the sun’s rays. From April to May until the autumn the plants can be brought to the open, in order to strengthen them and improve their possible variegations.
For the details of the cultivation technique the following sheet can be consulted.
Uses and Traditions –
The Hedera helix, in ancient times, was one of the symbols of Dionisio (Bacchus for the Romans), he was in fact also called Kissós, the Greek name of the plant. It tells the myth that it appeared immediately after the birth of Dionysius to protect him. The Thebans considered sacred to the god a crown of ivy branches called “perikiósos” which means “winder of columns”
From the plant the Kissoûssa spring near Tebe also took its name, where according to legend the water lilies would have wet the little Dionysius after birth.
Bacchus was considered the god of the mystical transport, but also of the amorous one and the plant became for the people, a symbol of the passion that drives lovers to unite, in an embrace that one would like to perpetuate forever, similar to that of the Ivy around the trunk of a tree. The bacchantes chewed and ate leaves and sprouts to enter a state of euphoria, of ecstasy, of fury.
For this reason in India the plant is also considered a symbol of concupiscence.
Its freshness was attributed the power to dispel the effects of wine, which is why it was believed that Dionysius had ordered his followers to adorn them, the same god, was depicted with a crown of ivy on his head and with a stick wrapped in its leaves. Some believe that it is precisely from this belief that the custom, still alive today in some country taverns, of hanging outside the door a branch of Edera to indicate the pouring of the wine derives.
In central and northern Europe, the ivy was used together with Agrifolgio, hanging on the beams and on the doors of the houses and on the chimneys, as a Christmas decoration, a custom created to keep away the mischievous elves from homes.
The alleged magical powers of this plant, changed according to the locality, for example in Scotland the task of protecting cows and their milk from the evil eye was attributed to the Ivy.
In Greece crowns of Ivy were offered to the newlyweds and the priests before the services, they had their head around.
In Egypt it was sacred to the goddess Osiris and symbolized life in its entirety.
The Roman emperors and poets were crowned with ivy garlands, it seems that Nero had a crown on his head while Rome burned. Cato, Pliny, but many other Latin writers cite ivy in their works.
The druids used this plant mixed with wine and beer to create their visions.
The doctors of antiquity believed it could be used by placing it on the head to heal from madness.
The Celts associated the Ivy with the cult of Arianrhod “the silver wheel” that is the moon. Arianrhod presided over the aurora, the moon phases, births, marriages, fertility, but his main task, especially in conjunction with the aurora borealis, was to guide the souls of the dead to his home: Caer Arianrhod, place where souls stopped before reincarnating or dying for good. The Arianrhod party is celebrated on October 31st, it is universally known as Halloween.
According to Walter Friedrich Otto, a historian of religions and one of the greatest philologists and Greek scholars of the 1900s, “The vine and the ivy are sisters, who, although developed in opposite directions, cannot conceal their relationship. Both complete a marvelous metamorphosis. “Its flowering and its covering of fruits is in opposition with respect to the vine, the Ivy flourishes in autumn when the vine is harvest time and produces flowers in the spring. Among its flowers and its fruits is the time of the Dionysian epiphany in the winter months. All this to represent the dualism of Dionysus: light and darkness, cold and heat, life and death.
This is why Edera, love and fidelity are almost synonymous and in the Kama Sutra there is a figure called: “The embrace of ivy”.
The main constituents of Hedera helix are: triterpene saponins (among which is particularly important the heterine), essential oil, steroids (sterols, beta sitosterol, campestrol), flavonoids (rutin), glucosides, alkaloids (emetine), caffeic acids and chlorogenic, mineral salts, calcium oxalate.
Eminine and triterpene saponins are effective against Fasciola hepatica, (a flat worm, which infects the bile ducts of herbivores and accidentally can also affect humans), molluscs, intestinal parasites and fungal infections.
Common ivy is a bitter, aromatic herb, has antibacterial, analgesic, fluidifying expectorants of mucolytic catarrh, antispasmodic, antipyretic, vasoconstrictor.
The birds feed on it abundantly during the winter while for the man it grows vigorous and luxuriant, evergreen, a very rustic and cold-resistant climber.
Remember that the fruits are poisonous to humans as they contain a saponin that irritates the gastric walls.
In fact, for internal use they can cause intoxication, which is manifested by symptoms of nausea and vomiting and depression of the central nervous system, up to coma with respiratory depression. Contact can cause severe skin irritation and allergies.
As for the ornamental aspect, its ability to emit roots from the stem allows it to adhere with great tenacity to the substrate; therefore, it is widely cultivated and diffused for ornamental purposes to cover walls and pergolas in partial shade.
The ivy contributes to the natural selection of the forest when it “embraces” the trunks, with its weight, weighs down and makes the trees fall less resistant and already sick, accelerating the renewal of the forest and completing the biological cycle.
According to studies by NASA Hedera helix, it seems to have shown remarkable properties having the ability to absorb 90%, benzene and over 10% of trichlorethylene, so it can be called an “anti-pollution” plant.
Ivy is also an excellent melliferous plant. From it you can get a honey; although common, ivy is not abundant, so the production of monoflora honey occurs only in small areas. Very important because it is the last plant that supplies large quantities of nectar and pollen before winter, flowering in September-October. A peculiarity of this honey that makes it difficult to extract is due to rapid crystallization, often already in the combs inside the hive, making normal centrifugation useless. Hence it is often left as the last supply for the winter hive stocks. Moreover, for the autumn period, honey tends to have too much humidity.
Common ivy is used, as it is much appreciated in cosmetics for its toning and draining properties: it is very useful against cellulite, water retention and swelling, but also for hair care and small irritations or burns.
Among the most appreciated cosmetic products obtained from this plant is the extract of ivy.
Preparation Mode –
The common ivy can be used for many healing purposes but, due to its toxicity, it is advised not to use its herbal remedies, without prescription and medical supervision.
For internal use it is used in case of gout, rheumatic pains, whooping cough, bronchitis.
For external use in case of rashes, swelling of the tissues, varicose veins, painful joints, neuralgia, burns, warts, scabies, impetigo, cellulite.
It is one of the plants useful for combating skin blemishes caused by cellulite and the drawbacks of oily skin. The extract of Ivy has a strong cosmetic toning action on all parts of the body that tend to relax and lose tone, the astringent action, favors the reabsorption of liquids; for these properties, it is present in numerous preparations for topical use such as creams, gels and muds against the formation of cellulite.
For a relaxing foot bath soak some chopped leaves in hot water. To restore color to discolored black clothing, dip the clothes in an infusion prepared with 40 leaves and a liter of water, leaving them for about 2 hours before rinsing; boiled leaves with the addition of soda can be used as a soap substitute for washing clothes.
To make dark hair shine, use a rinsing mixture of 3 ÷ 4 leaves for every dl of water.
Finally, remember how the ash obtained by burning the branches of this plant is an excellent polish for silverware.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Pharmacy of the Lord, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, do not in any way represent a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is assumed for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.