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English Ivy - Hedera helix



Hedera helix is an evergreen Climber growing to 15 m (49ft) by 5 m (16ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Oct to November, and the seeds ripen from May to June. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies, lepidoptera.It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil and can tolerate drought. It can tolerate atmospheric pollution.[PFAF]

The plant is said to be poisonous in large doses[7, 10, 65, 76] 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[274]. The sap can cause dermatitis with blistering and inflammation. This is apparently due to the presence of polyacetylene compounds[274]. [PFAF] Health risks or side effects following the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages are not recorded. The drug has a medium potential for sensitization through skin contact.[PDR]


The leaf contains circa 10% saponin and has been used for washing wool. Leaves boiled with soda are said to be suitable for washing clothes. Young twigs are a source of yellow and brown dye. Hardwood can be used as a boxwood substitute in engraving. Extracts are found in French massage creams and soaps. Ivy leaves were once bruised, gently boiled in wine, and drunk to alleviate intoxication by wine. Flowers, decocted in wine, were used for dysentery. Plant said to have been used as an emetic and narcotic on at least three continents. Tender ivy twigs, boiled in butter, were a primitive approach to remove sunburn.[MPB-Duke]

Edible Uses

Although they are almost certainly not edible, there is a report that the seeds contain 16.2% protein and 35.1% fat[218]. [PFAF]

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

Ivy is a bitter aromatic herb with a nauseating taste[238]. It is often used in folk herbal remedies[218], especially in the treatment of rheumatism and as an external application to skin eruptions, swollen tissue, painful joints, burns and suppurating cuts[9, 238]. [PFAF]

Misc Lore:

(Hedera helix, H. spp)
Folk Name: Gort
Gender: Feminine
Planet: Saturn
Element: Water
Deities: Bacchus, Dionysus, Osiris
Powers: Protection, Healing
Ritual Uses: The thyrsus, used in worshipping Bacchus, was often wound round with ivy.
Magical Uses: Ivy is carried by women for good luck in general, and is worn by brides for this same reason. Where ivy grows or is strewn, it guards against negativity and disaster. Ivy is also used in fidelity and love charms. It is magically "paired" to holly.[EMH Cunningham]

Herbal Use


  • D-GALACTOSE Fruit: DUKE1992A
  • ELIXEN Plant: DUKE1992A
  • EMETINE Plant: DUKE1992A
  • FAT Seed 351,000 ppm; DUKE1992A
  • LINOLEIC-ACID Seed 45,630 ppm; DUKE1992A
  • MALIC-ACID Plant: DUKE1992A
  • OLEIC-ACID Seed 70,200 ppm; DUKE1992A
  • PALMITIC-ACID Seed 17,550 ppm; DUKE1992A
  • PROTEIN Seed 162,000 ppm; DUKE1992A
  • RESIN Plant: DUKE1992A
  • RHAMNOSE Leaf: DUKE1992A
  • RUTIN Stem: DUKE1992A
  • SCOPOLIN Plant: DUKE1992A

ppm = parts per million
tr = trace [DukePhyto]

Leaves & Berries

Triterpene saponins: aglycone hederagenin, oleanolic acid, bayogenin, chief components hederosaponin C (hederacoside C, slightly transforming into alpha-hederin, aglycone hederagenin), additionally hederosaponin B (hederacoside B)
Volatile oils: including some with methylethylketone, methylisobutylketone
Polyynes: including falcarinol, 11,12-didehydrofalcarinol
Steroids: sterols, including beta-sitosterol, campesterol
Flavonoids: including rutin [PDR]


Activities (Ivy) [HMH Duke]
  • Allergenic (1; APA; CRC; PH2);
  • Amebicide (1; BGB; PNC);
  • Analgesic (1; APA; BGB);
  • Antibacterial (1; APA; PH2);
  • Anticancer (1; BGB);
  • Antiexudative (f; PH2);
  • Antileishmanic (1; BGB); [HMH Duke][Oleszek, SIF]
  • Antimelanomic (1; BGB);
  • Antipyretic (f; BGB; PNC);
  • Antiseptic (1; APA; CRC);
  • Antispasmodic (2; APA; KOM; PH2; PIP);
  • Aphrodisiac (f; CRC);
  • Astringent (1; CRC);
  • Antithrombin Activity [EMNMPV.8]
  • Contraceptive (f; CRC);
  • Cytotoxic (f; BGB; PH2; PNC);
  • Diaphoretic (f; CRC);
  • Emetic (1; CRC);
  • Emmenagogue (f; CRC);
  • Expectorant (2; APA; KOM; PH2; PIP);[HMH Duke][Oleszek, SIF]
  • Fungicide (1; APA; BGB; PH2; PNC);
  • Hemolytic (1; CRC);
  • Irritant (2; KOM; PH2);
  • Laxative (f; CRC; BGB; PNC);
  • Litholytic (f; MAD);
  • Molluscicide (1; BGB; PH2; PNC);
  • Mucoirritant (2; KOM);
  • Narcotic (f; CRC);
  • Parasiticide (1; BGB);
  • Pediculicide (f; CRC);
  • Protisticide (1; APA);
  • Secretolytic (BIS);
  • Sedative (1; APA; BGB);
  • Stimulant (f; CRC);
  • Trichomonicide (1; BGB);
  • Vasoconstrictor (f; CRC);
  • Vasodilator (f; CRC);
  • Vermifuge (f; BGB; CRC; PH2; PNC).


Landscape Uses: Cascades, Container, Erosion control, Ground cover, Massing. Ivy is a very easily grown plant that dislikes waterlogged, very dry or very acid soils but otherwise succeeds in all soil types[1, 17, 238]. It grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers some lime in the soil. Tolerates very dense shade[24, 31], though it may not flower in such a position[K]. The plant is very hardy and tolerant of atmospheric pollution[4]. Established plants are drought tolerant[190]. A very ornamental and hardy plant[190], it tolerates temperatures down to about -25°c[184]. There are many named varieties[190], the variegated forms are less hardy than the species and also require more light[238]. Ivy is a rampant climbing plant, clinging by means of aerial roots and often trailing on the ground in woods and hedges[186]. It is of benefit rather than harm when growing on a wall because it keeps the wall dry and acts as an insulation[11, 24]. It does not damage the structure of a wall. Similarly, it does not harm large trees when climbing into them, though it can shade out smaller and ailing trees[200]. It is not a parasitic plant, but instead obtains all its nutrient from the sun and the soil[186]. A very good plant for wild-life, it provides dense shelter for birds, spiders etc, an abundant late supply of nectar for insects and a supply of seeds for winter food[4, 24, 186]. It is a food plant for the larvae of many species of butterfly[24, 30]. A very variable plant, there are many named varieties. This species is notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Not North American native, Naturalizing, All or parts of this plant are poisonous, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms.[PFAF]


Seed - remove the flesh, which inhibits germination, and sow the seed in spring in a cold frame[113]. Four weeks cold stratification will improve germination[113]. 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[78]. Cuttings of mature wood, 12cm long, November in a cold frame[78]. Layering. Plants often do this naturally.[PFAF]


The information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes. Self diagnosis and treatment, without due diligence, could be harmful and is not encouraged. Some information & images may be copyright. Every effort has been made to present the information in the spirit with which it was originally presented. Some data has been omitted for legal and/or practical consideration. There is some data not covered in the scope of this project, including, but not limited to, cell culture and large-dose animal studies. I have made comparisons and links between related species which may later prove erroneous. I have not verified the information for accuracy and I accept no responsibility for its authenticity. Many of the plants presented are poisonous, have poisonous properties, or could cause illness through misuse, allergic reaction, drug interactions and environmental contaminants. Please use caution and mindfulness when harvesting plants for any use.

Page last modified on 31-10-2016