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?

32 thoughts on “Ground Elder – the most dreaded of weeds

  1. Gout weed is the worst…I used landscape fabric and mulch to control in my clients’ house, from time to time still have to watch them and pull them out… Chinese Lenten is not much nicer than gout weed but at least you can cut the stems as cut flower.

  2. It’s weeds like ground elder that test the patience of even the most committed organic gardener – I can only sympathise with you over your battle with it. I used to have an allotment that grew more mare’s tail than vegetables – got to the stage where I was having nightmares about the stuff!

  3. It still surprises me that some people here deliberately cultivate the variegated form of goutweed…but then again, I suppose if you have a very large area to fill with “something” and you don’t care about maintenance, it could be suitable. An elementary school in an adjacent community to ours uses goutweed as its sole foundation planting, and I guess it looks okay. (It hasn’t yet headed out into the playground or the soccer field, LOL!).

    My nemesis is quackgrass…it drives me absolutely batty. I will never get it all, that’s for sure. But reading everyone’s comments about horsetail makes me think I may have it easy….

    • I can’t believe it but it is recommended as ground cover here too! As you say, maybe for non-gardeners a godsend! I have fortunately not had to deal with quackgrass ( I think we call it couch grass), but I know what you mean with going batty!

  4. LOL Love it! Wish I had the knees to weed and meditate lol I just caved in and laid down fabric! I have a section I am allowing to fill in what ever comes I did add wildflower to the hill and birds will help by bringing seeds from others yards. I heard if you just let it go(there is a gravel drive in between me and that area, that will eventually turn into a meadow like area with all kinds of Natural things Queen Ann’s Lace and many other plants just sway in the breeze here but then again I am not a person who does structure and formal well either πŸ™‚ Just wild and free πŸ™‚

    Have fun weeding listen to some music while you rig and YANK!

    We are under the gun for heavy 3 to 5 inch rain fall 😦

  5. I sympathise, ground elder must be a pain! We have a farmer next to us who lets all his docks, nettles, brambles ,buttercups etc come over the fence to us, the seeds are all over the garden so it makes weeding a non stop operation.

    • Brambles are another problem in part of our garden, but most other weeds are allowed limited space. The vetch, for example is simply so pretty when it flowers….. must not let it go to seed though!

  6. Wow! What a pretty weed! Never heard of those but in Texas, my bane is dandelions and their thorny cousin whose name I don’t even know. Too many to chose from. πŸ˜›

  7. Hi Cathy it!s been awhile! I do look but my work and life have overwhelmed me to a point I’ve ignored me! I’ve had to take a new position at work, one I am doing under duress! Instill find it refreshing hiw much slime our gardening lives are . Years ago at my old house both plants you featured in your blog were invasive in the gardens and I tried to eradicate them! At my current home chickweed poke and Virginia Creeper seedlings get the best of me! I usually get 10-14 pick-up truck loads of mulch to keep the weeds down. This past weekend I contacted a severe case of poison ivy oh life!

    • Hi Bonnie. Lovely to hear from you! I hope the job doesn’t get too stressful and you still get time for photography – always enjoy your inspiring photos Bonnie. I imagine the Virginia Creeper is similar to the ivy here… it grows through the winter too and if I don’t keep an eye on it, it will invade the flowerbeds sneakily! As far as I know we don’t get poison ivy here – hope you recover soon.

  8. So true, Cathy, and mind you, I almost imported ground elder into my new garden which doesn’t have any. Moved some favourite plants to my new plot and spotted with horror tiny leaves of it…so I’m keeping a close eye and dig up everthing as soon as I see it. And you’re right: weeding is like meditating…if it’s not the only activity in the garden. Have a nice weekend πŸ™‚

    • That happened to me too, moving a plant from the front to the back garden…. our front is our “nature reserve” and is left to its own devices! LOL!

  9. Oriental bittersweet is a very invasive vine here in New England that I try to keep out of our orchard.. The problem is that the birds like the berries and cause it to spread rapidly. It can totally cover and topple a tree in no time.

    • There are some very agressive plants out there – another new one to me Karen. Thanks for commenting. It’s interesting learning about weeds all over the world, and not just garden plants!

  10. I heard one of the UK’s top garden designers say that she used ground elder in her own garden as a Green ground cover! So there you are, you don’t need to weed it out at all. Christina

    • Maybe I should just ignore it and tell everyone it’s a wild flower! Wonder if my plants would survive the competition….. Thanks Christina. Interesting to hear what the experts say!

  11. Speaking very softly, whispering in fact Cathy so as to not tempt fate but ground elder is one of the few weeds that has not reared its ugly head either in the garden or at the allotment. The bane of my life is marestail. I could knit with the lengths that I’ve pulled out of the ground at the allotment this spring 😦

  12. Oh yes, ground elder has taken over some parts of our garden as well 😦 . Ivy is also hard to get rid off. And just yesterday someone recommended it to me as a cover for a small garden wall. I was lost for words πŸ˜‰

    • Oh dear. Sounds like you have a lot of work to do too! πŸ˜‰ I am not a fan of ivy after having to remove so much of it when we moved here, but it can be effective in the right place if kept in check.

  13. Pingback: Book Review: Outside in My Dressing Gown | Words and Herbs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.