Ground Elder

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

ground elder Aegopodium podagraria, a plant of the umbelliferous family which grows in temperate Europe. The leaves have some resemblance to those of elder; hence the name. An alternative name, goutweed, alludes to the supposed medicinal properties of the plant.

Generally, this plant is perceived as an annoying weed which is notoriously difficult to eradicate. Gerard (1633) noted that ground elder ‘is so fruitful in his increase that where it hath once taken roote, it will hardly be gotten out again, spoiling and getting every yeere more ground, to the annoying of better herbes’. However, it has enjoyed a limited use, mainly in N. Europe, as a pot-herb or salad ingredient, and has elicited praise from Pamela Michael (1980), who recommends it as a spring or early summer vegetable. She writes:

It is impossible to describe the entirely original flavour of ground elder when cooked. Don’t be deterred by the horrible pungent smell when you pick the leaves which, if you have the plant growing as a weed in your garden, will be all too familiar. This smell entirely disappears in the cooking, and you are left with one of the most delicious wild vegetables.