Ground Elder – the most dreaded of weeds

Every gardener struggles with one or two weeds particular to their garden. And every year hours are spent digging up, chopping back or uprooting various invaders. Sometimes garden plants become invasive too, such as the Physalis alkekengi in my garden, with its pretty orange lantern-like seedheads in autumn, BUT what roots!


I am usually not averse to weeds, as I find weeding rather relaxing – in a way a form of meditation. Is that perverse?! Had I the time, I would be out there whenever the weather permitted, deep in the flower beds, admiring my little treasures while pulling out their enemies.

However, there is one exception.


One weed, or wild flower if you prefer, that seems to permeate every single flower bed, and even parts of the rockery. An evil beast, with root systems stretching several feet both just below the surface of the soil, as well as several feet downwards too. To be precise, a single piece of a rhizome can expand 3 feet and colonize a large area rapidly – very rapidly. And roots have been found in quarries thirty feet below the ground! Chopping won’t help either – every time it is cut through, the root will produce a new shoot. Clever. No, sly is a better word.

Aegopodium podagraria


The botanical name is ugly to my mind. Perhaps I am biased. Aegopodium refers to the shape of the leaves, like goats’ feet(?). Podagraria comes from Podagra – gout. Charming.
To me the common name, Ground Elder, conjures up images of witches and evil spirits conspiring to weaken and overcome any form of beauty which dares to attempt to flourish in my flower beds. In fact, in Richard Mabey’s book Weeds, he tells of how his partner has given it a contracted name: Grelda. Sounds like a witch, don’t you think? Another commom name is Gout Weed – hardly an improvement. One of the German names is rather nice: Zipperleinskraut. Zipperlein is an old word for gout, but nowadays is used to describe minor ailments. (Kraut means weed or plant)


Does this weed have a right to exist?

  • It is in fact edible, but is rather bitter, and I would have to live on it for several weeks of the year in order to stunt its growth in any way. I prefer spinach.
  • It has pretty white flowers, but I cannot enjoy them knowing they are full of seeds ready to spread further across my garden.
  • It may be a food source for some butterfly or moth larvae.
  • It can be used medicinally, internally as a diuretic or externally for relief of gout.
  • It is pleasantly green in early spring, before much else has sprouted.


I shall battle on, as I’m sure we all will. Fighting the good fight! We gardeners will prevail! Go and get your hoes out brothers and sisters in arms!

What weed is the bane of YOUR life?