Ground elder

Foraging ground elder leaves
Once cherished as a food staple by the Romans, this edible green has become a real headache for modern gardeners due to its invasive tendencies. Yet, for the keen forager, it presents a golden opportunity amidst the greenery.

Table of Contents

Ground Elder: Plant profile

Common names

Ground Elder, Herb Gerrard, Goutweed, Gout Wort, Bishops Weed, Bishop’s Gout-Weed, Ground Ash, Ash-Weed, Snow-in-the-Mountain (Variegated)

Botanical name

Aegopodium podagraria

Family

Apiaceae (Carrot)

Distribution

Originally from Europe and Asia, it was brought to Britain during the Middle Ages before making its way to North America.

Where to find Ground Elder

An invasive plant growing on woodlands, gardens, parks, and along roadsides. It prefers moist, shady areas and spreads rapidly, often troubling gardeners.

When to find Ground Elder

Flowers late spring to mid-summer and leaves mid-winter to late spring.

How to identify Ground Elder

Ground elder sprawls across the ground, growing to 40-50 cm and creating a soft, pale green carpet. Its oval leaves, smooth and toothed, and arranged in three groups of three at the end of leaf stems. Umbels of small flowers start off pale pink and gradually fade to white as they mature. The seeds, spread by the wind, take shape as flat vessels emerging from the flower heads once they reach maturity.

Ground Elder lookalikes

Remain vigilant about its potentially hazardous relatives in the Carrot family, particularly Hemlock Water-Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) and Hemlock (Conium maculatum), which are highly poisonous.

Resembling to Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis), Ground Elder differs with its hairy leaves and stems and don’t grow in groups of three.

Young elder trees (Sambucus nigra) might also resemble ground elder, but they have a distinct stem or trunk, unlike ground elder’s leaves emerging directly from the soil.

Foraging ground elder leaves

All about Ground Elder

Originally introduced by the Romans as a food staple, now it’s giving gardeners a real headache, as the plant is notorious for its rapid spread through underground rhizomes.

Munching on might just be the best way to keep it in check, as ground elder is one of the safest members of the carrot family to identify.

Medicinal properties of Ground Elder

Also known as Bishop’s weed, ground elder was believed to help treat gout back in the Middle Ages. Legend has it that Saint Gerrard, the bishop of Toul in Germany, first introduced its healing powers. Hence, the alternative name Gerrard’s herb.

Beyond gout, ground elder’s therapeutic applications extend to rheumatism, arthritis, bladder, and digestive issues, alongside its use in poultices for burns and stings. While more research is needed to confirm its efficacy, ground elder’s has long been used in traditional herbalism.

Culinary uses and recipes of Ground Elder

Ground elder, with its blend of parsley, celery, and carrot flavours, has a unique aromatic profile. Its subtle acidity and bitterness create an enticing contrast. While young plants excel as salad greens, older leaves become tougher and oddly papery.

Young ground elder leaves, whether raw or cooked, enhance fish dishes and elevate pancakes, soups, stews, and salads., from zesty pesto to hearty pie fillings. Additionally, the seeds, reminiscent of caraway, add depth and character to dishes.

Ground elder is a versatile ingredient found in traditional dishes worldwide, from spring salads in Nordic countries to green borscht soup in parts of Ukraine.

Foraging ground elder flowers

Safe foraging of Ground Elder

It’s important to stay cautious of other poisonous members of the carrot family, as they can be mistaken for ground elder.

Additionally, there’s limited information available on any adverse effects. Therefore, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before using ground elder, especially during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or if you have specific medical concerns.

Ecological importance of Ground Elder

Ground elder serves as a food source for the larvae of several moth species, although it isn’t the sole host for any of them.

This plant quickly spreads via underground rhizomes, competing fiercely, even thriving in shaded areas. Its presence can reduce ground cover variety and impede tree and shrub seedling growth, making it one of the “worst” garden weeds, especially in flower gardens.

Sustainable Ground Elder foraging

Ground elder foraging presents a sustainable option, given its abundance and classification as an invasive species. Picking a few leaves or flowers doesn’t harm a colony, due to its rapid reproduction rate.

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Picture of Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

I am the human behind BritishLocalFood. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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