Foraging for Ground Elder: A gardener’s bane but a forager’s delight

Ground Elder – Aegopodium podagraria
(In Irish: Lus an Easpaig)

If you love to feast on foraged food, you will want to try this tasty wild treat. When wandering through forests and down country lanes you might think that scrumptious food is far afield, but when you know where to look, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the edible leaves you can find. Today we’re looking at Ground Elder.

Ground Elder

Ground elder is known by a variety of not completely flattering names such as goutweed and bishop’s weed. Its scientific name is Aegopodium podagraria. Don’t let these names deceive you, foraged ground elder is refreshing, flavoursome and worth the hunt.

Flowering Period

How to identify ground elder

Wild ground elder can be identified when foraging in Ireland by its toothed oval-shaped leaves, which grow in groups of three at the end of leaf stems. A light green colour, the leaves can be shiny and slightly translucent. The young leaves sprout up individually at first forming a creeping carpet, but the plant can grow up to a metre high in summer.

This green plant can be found hugging the edges of woodlands, along roadsides, rivers and in parks. Look out for the cluster of tiny white or light pink flowers poking up from the ground like little fairy umbrellas.

Ground elder grows all year but the best season for foraging young leaves is between January and June. The flowers shoot up from late May to August.

Foraging Ground Elder

Ground elder is resilient and thus considered a pest by most gardeners, who are usually wondering how to get rid of it. Thus you won’t have to worry too much about how many leaves you pick when you harvest wild ground elder!

This wild food grows relentlessly and will quickly sprout back fresh new leaves. Although it may be a gardener’s pest, it is a forager’s delicious delight.

Reproducing through both seeds and roots ground elder outcompetes native plants and is considered invasive, particularly in native woodlands. The ground elder roots delve deep into the earth and can be incredibly hard to get rid of, due to this it is traditionally known as ‘Devil’s guts’.

Aegopodium Podagraria / Ground Elder

How to cook foraged ground elder

Ground Elder when foraged fresh from the fields in Ireland has a taste similar to parsley or celery. Although wild ground elder is edible when older, you will probably prefer the fresher taste of the young leaves.

You can use the young leaves in a fresh garden salad. The leaves will add a subtle flavour without overpowering the taste of the dish. The older leaves can be cooked like spinach; lightly steam them and add some creamy butter. Toss them into stir-fries, and soups or try a delicious ground elder pesto recipe.

Recipe: Ground Elder Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 shallots (diced)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium white potatoes (diced. Suggestion: Cara, British Queens or Golden Wonders)
  • 750ml vegetable stock
  • 100g of ground elder
  • 250ml cream

Special equipment:

  • Stick blender / blender

Method:

  1. In a large saucepan, on medium heat, sautée the shallots in the olive oil until they soften.
  2. Stir in the potatoes with the vegetable stock and simmer everything for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through.
  3. Add the ground elder to the mix. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Pour in the cream steadily, and stir.
  5. Blitz everything with a stick blender until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

Ground elder benefits

17th-century herbalist Nicolas Culpeper described the plant’s effectiveness as follows:

“Saturn rules it. Neither is it to be supposed that Goutwort hath its name for nothing, but upon experiment, it heals the gout and sciatica; as also joint aches and other cold pains.”

Close up of the white flowers of Ground Elder – Aegopodium podagraria

Ground elder look-alike

Although ground elder is quite distinctive in appearance it is still possible to confuse it with other similar plants in the Apiaceae family when it’s flowering. Apiaceae or Umbelliferae is a family of mostly aromatic flowering plants and not a specific plant.

When flowering: harmful ground elder lookalikes include the giant hogweed (though as is in the name, the giant hogweed is LARGE in comparison to the on the ground, ground elder).

If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, you can submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre here.


As always, do not forage any plant you’re not 100% certain you can identify!

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