Virginia Creeper

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Virginia Creeper

Botanical Name: Vitis Hederacea (WILLD.)
Family: N.O. Vitaceae

Synonyms: American Ivy. Five-leaved Ivy. Ampolopsis quinquefolia (Mich.). Cissus Hederacea (Ross.). Cissus quinquefolia (Desf.). Vitis quinquefolia (LINN.). Wood Vine.
Parts Used: Bark, twigs, fresh leaves, berries, resin.

This common creeper is familiar to all on account of its rapid growth and the magnificence of its autumn colouring. It is specially useful in town gardens, where it is not affected by the smoky atmosphere.

The stem is extensively climbing, reaching out in all directions and fastening itself by the disk-like appendages of the tendrils, and also by rootlets. It will shoot about 20 feet in one year, and in time it becomes very woody.

The flowering branches become converted into tendrils, as in the case of the Vine. An inspection of any vine in summer will generally show some tendrils with buds upon them, revealing their origin. Occasionally, what ought to have been a tendril becomes a flowering branch and bears a full bunch of grapes. The two together are called a 'double cluster.'

Description: The leaves have long petioles, or foot-stalks, and are divided into five leaflets. The flowers are in small clusters - yellowish-green in colour and open in July, a few at a time. They are much liked by bees, and are succeeded by dark purplish-blue berries, which are ripe in October, being then about the size of a pea. Under the name of Hedera quinquefolia, this creeper was first brought to Europe from Canada, and was cultivated here as early as1629. Parkinson, in whose days it was introduced, described it - 'The leaves are crumpled or rather folded together at the first coming forth and very red, which after growing forth are very fair, large and green, divided into four, five, six or seven leaves standing together upon a small foot-stalk - set without order on the branches, at the ends whereof, as also at other places sometimes, come forth short tufts of buds for flowers, but we could never see them open themselves to show what manner of flower it would be or what fruit would follow in our country.'

Part Used: Bark and twigs. A tincture is made of the fresh young shoots and bark, which are chopped and pounded to a pulp, mixed with 2 parts by weight of alcohol, and left for 8 days in the dark before being strained and filtered off. The tincture is not official in either the United States or the British Pharmacopoeia.

The generic name Hedera is supposed to be derived either from the Celtic haedra (a cord), or from the Greek hedra (a seat). The specific name Helix was given by Linnaeus, on account of its being a great harbourer of snails, Helix being the scientific name of the Snail family. The English name of Ivy is said to be from iw (green), from its evergreen character. Yew is derived from the same word.

Constituents: The properties depend on the special balsamic resin contained in its leaves and stems, as well as in its particular aromatic gum. The berries contain a very bitter principle somewhat like quinine. The alkaloid contained in it is termed Hederin.

Pyrocatachin (Oxyphenic acid) in the green leaves. Cisso-tannic acid has been determined as the pigment of the red coloration in the autumnal coloured leaves, and has an astringent, bitter taste. The leaves when green contain also free tartaric acid and its salts, with sodium and potassium. Glycollic acid and calcium glycollate exist in the ripe berries.

In scrofulous affections the drug is principally employed in the form of a syrup.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Stimulating, diaphoretic and cathartic. Many virtues were attributed by our forefathers to this plant. Its berries have been found of use in febrile disorders, and were regarded as a specific against the plague and similar disorders, for which they were infused in vinegar. During the Great Plague of London, Ivy berries were given with some success for their antiseptic virtues and to induce perspiration.

In India the leaves are used as an aperient, and a resinous matter that in warm climates exudes from the bark of the main stems (and may be procured by wounding them) is considered a useful stimulant, antispasmodic and emmenagogue. This gum possesses mildly aperient properties, and was at one time included as a medicine in the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia, but has now fallen out of use. Dissolved in vinegar it had the reputation of being a good filling for a hollow tooth causing neuralgic toothache.

The leaves have a very unpleasant taste. Taken inwardly in infusion, they act as an aperient and emetic, but are sudorific. They have been given on the Continent to children suffering from atrophy. The juice is said to cure headache, when applied to the nostrils. An infusion of the leaves and berries will also mitigate a severe headache.

The fresh leaves of Ivy, boiled in vinegar and applied warm to the sides of those who are troubled with the spleen, or stitch in the sides, will give much ease. The same applied with Rose-water, and oil of Roses to the temples and forehead eases headaches. Cups made from Ivywood have been employed, from which to sip hot or cold water for diseases of the spleen.

A decoction of the leaves applied externally will destroy head lice in children, and fresh Ivy leaves bruised and applied will afford great relief to bunions and shooting corns, a remedy to the excellence of which John Wesley has testified.

The leaves have also been employed as poultices and fomentations in glandular enlargements, indolent ulcers, etc.

A decoction of the leaves has been used as a black dye.

The berries possess much the same properties as the leaves, being strongly purgative and emetic. An infusion of the berries has been frequently found serviceable in rheumatic complaints and is reported to have cured the dropsy.

The dried bark is also used in a decoction. When stripped from the branches (after the berries have ripened) and dried in the sun, it occurs in quilled pieces 2 to 3 inches long and from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, externally brown with enlarged transverse scars, the fracture showing a white bark with coarse flattened fibres in the inner portion. One ounce of the bark to a pint of boiling water is taken in wineglassful doses.

A fluid extract is also prepared from the bark and twigs, of which the dose is 1/2 to 1 drachm; another preparation, Ampelopsin, is taken in doses of 2 to 4 grains.