Weedy Wednesday - Ground elder
This week's plant in our Wednesday Weed series is ground elder. Invasive and hated - but surprisingly tasty!
In this weekly series, we take a quick look at common garden weeds. How they grow, what benefits they bring to the garden, and how to manage them. Organic growers recognise the importance of these native plants. Insects and birds need the flowers and seeds – and gardeners, cooks and herbalists can harvest some nutrient rich foliage.
We hope that this snap-shot view of bindweed, dandelion, nettle, bramble, thistle, goosegrass, plantain, fat hen, dock and yes, even ground elder, will help you to live with them. We also give advice on how to compost weeds. You may not love them, but you certainly won't be tempted to reach for the toxic weed-killer.
Ground Elder Aegopodium podagraria L.
What: This attractive plant with bright, upright green foliage and white flowers is a nightmare for gardeners. Like bindweed, it will rapidly reproduce and create a carpet of plants from rhizomes, which can grow up to 90 cm per year. It can invade from neighbouring gardens, or be transported in plant/soil swaps. The flowers bear a resemblance to those of the elder tree (which is completely unrelated) and the leaf stem has an interesting triangular profile.
Habit: Ground elder stems, except the flowering shoot, remain below ground and it is the leaf stalk not the stem that emerges above ground. Up to five rhizomes form at the base of each tuft of leaves. These have scale leaves at 4-5 cm intervals with a bud that develops into a branched root. (A quick word on the difference between roots and rhizomes. Roots are the plant’s anchor, they are fibrous and pull up moisture and nourishment from the soil. Rhizomes are underground stems, used by the plant to store energy. They generally grow horizontal, often just under the soil, sprouting roots and shooting up new vertical stems as they go.) The dormant buds of ground elder overwinter underground, on the creeping rhizome system. Flowers appear from May to July/August. The fresh seeds require a period of chilling before they will germinate.
Benefits: The tender, new leaves can be eaten as a spring leaf vegetable, much like spinach. It is best picked before it flowers in May to June, as mature leaves have a pungent taste and a laxative effect. Used as treatment for gout and arthritis in the Middle Ages.
Controls: Ground elder is a terrifyingly persistent weed. The soil should be repeatedly dug over and the rhizomes removed and burnt. Just one digging session will not eradicate all the roots and rhizomes. Where it invades a planted area it may be necessary to dig out the desirable plants and clean off their roots to remove rhizome fragments. The soil-free plants should be potted up and observed to ensure no ground elder has been missed. The cleared bed has to be cultivated repeatedly to deal with the ground elder before replanting.