This time of year the beautiful ivy with its shiny leaves is a fine sight in any Garden, its native to Europe and Great Britain, Western Asia and North Africa. When an ivy is left to grow undisturbed its older stems can become as thick as those of some trees. It can climb to great heights, using its strong aerial roots as attachments to trees and buildings. In the Middle Ages ivy was associated with wine, a branch or bunch of ivy was hung on a pole outside a tavern to indicate that the building sold wine or ale. The name for these ivy poles were known as alepole or alestake. The bunch of ivy was sometimes known as a bush. From this the saying came `Good wine needs no bush´.
Dionysus was the Ancient Greek God of wine, agriculture, festivity and theatre. Dionysus is/was often depicted wearing a crown of ivy and carrying a thyrsus (The thyrsus was a wand or staff made from the stalk of a fennel plant or a branch of a tree). Ivy was wrapped around around this stalk which was topped with a pine cone. Its widely believed the ivy wrapped stalk is a symbol of fertility. It was said that ivy grew abundantly all over the mountain Nysa, the childhood home of Dionysus which may explain the connection between ivy and the God Dionysus.
Other intriguing stories suggest that the effects of intoxication by wine are removed if a handful of ivy leaves are bruised and gently boiled in wine and drunk.
The priests in Greece always presented a wreath of ivy to freshly married couples as a token of goodness and fertility. The custom of decorating houses with boughs of ivy was forbidden by the early church, on account of its pagan association but the custom still remains locally throughout Europe. Pagan customs such as bringing evergreens into the house during the winter solstice have thankfully continued even after Christianity tried to stamp them out.
Ivy can be an interesting addition to the garden or it can be a disturbance because of its rapid growth and its ability to block sunlight. Although ivy produces berries and are a favourite meal for blackbirds, They shouldn't be consumed by humans. Tasting very bitter and causing irritation in the mouth and stomach. The best use for ivy is to bring in a few boughs and hang them around the room for goodwill at celebration times such as the winter solstice and beltane. Ivy can also be woven into wreaths for the head, or a few leaves pinned onto ones jacket for protection, joy & luck.