Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria)


Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria). Frome, 4 August 2022.

A colony of Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria, Sw: Kirskål) beside the River Frome, looking very beautiful in fruit. 

Older vernacular names include Herb Gerard (Lyte translating Dodoens' Herbal, 1578), Gout-wort and Ashweed (Gerard's Herbal, 1597). There are many other variants: Bishop's Weed, Goutweed, Dog Elder. . . But the names mainly fall into two categories: those that note the passing resemblance of the compound leaves to Elder or Ash, and those referring to its use as a treatment for gout. Sources differ as to whether St Gerard, Bishop of Toul (c. 935 - 994) actually used the herb himself, or was just the saint that medieval gout-sufferers usually prayed to.  

The Swedish name, on the other hand, refers to the plant being edible -- kål means cabbage -- (especially the still-folded young leaves and leaf stems, gathered before any flower stems are produced). 

Gerard (the herbalist, not the saint) and Culpeper both confirmed the effectiveness of Ground-elder for aching joints and inflammations. It could be taken internally or applied as a poultice. 

The plant is native to most of mainland Europe, but is only an introduction in the British Isles, often found near monastic ruins but probably planted ever since Roman times for its medicinal and culinary properties. In Sweden, too, it's generally considered an introduction, seemingly from as far back as the Iron Age.

Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria). Frome, 4 August 2022.

The longest section of the English Wikipedia entry on Ground-elder is, I'm sorry to say, headed by the dread word "Control" and is effectively an advert for glyphosates (Roundup et al), a repellent intrusion given the controversy over glyphosate use (which is not even mentioned here, but is well documented under the Wikipedia entry for Glyphosate). It's quite true that colonies of Ground-elder are difficult to eliminate, if you are not willing to do the hard work of digging and sifting out all the rhizome fragments (don't put them in the compost heap!). Since Ground-elder is fairly resistant to glyphosates, the proposed solution on our gardening sites is of course to use more glyphosates, in repeated applications. I'd suggest that a bit of patient trowel work, even if you don't succeed in eliminating all the Ground-elder on your first attempt, has got to be a better solution than poisoning your garden's ecosystem. You could also try the method used in Sweden, covering the whole patch with wet newspaper and then firmly anchored black plastic, thus excluding all light; but you'll have to leave this apparatus in place for two years, so it's a bit drastic. 

The Environmental Impacts of Glyphosate (Friends of the Earth Europe, 2013):


Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria). Frome, 4 August 2022.

Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria). Frome, 4 August 2022.

Ground-elder, in the British Isles anyway, spreads more by subsoil rhizome activity and by humans carting soil from one place to another, than by seed. The seeds are relatively small by Apiaceae standards, egg-shaped and often tipped with two persistent styles bent back on themselves. The umbel has no bracts or bracteoles.

Some impressively comprehensive information (description, uses, properties):


Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria). Frome, 4 August 2022.

Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the roots of tree,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;

(from "Digging" by Edward Thomas. Source.)

My family roots are considered worthy,
before your very eyes, the glorious 'ground elder',
one can visualise a vigourous nature,
in which it has been shown, uplifted
to the point of recognition, the rhizome root
but where there' s need, not to be eradicated?

(from "My Family Roots -- The Ground Elder" by Titus Llewellyn. Source.)

Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria). Frome, 4 August 2022.

Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria). Frome, 4 August 2022.

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