Wulf's Webden

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Ground Elder

Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) is not a widely loved garden plant. The RHS site linked to in the previous sentence describes it as a “fast-growing, invasive, perennial weed”, hardly glowing terms of endearment. Like other plants of that description, it spreads by extending underground rhizomes and can regrow from a tiny fragment of one of them. If you want to get rid of it you either have to resort to poisons or to careful weeding, like an archaeologist revealing buried treasures; rough digging will fragment and multiply the problem.

However it is an edible plant (see Plants for a Future for this more generous view). I think there are more effective ways to handle it than eradication – do a mental flip and see it as a low maintenance, culinary plant and it becomes boon rather than bane. It is endemic in my garden and we’ve always had a certain amount in the hard-to-reach area behind the rosemary bush. However, I hesitate to describe it as invasive. Perhaps in some situations but we haven’t taken particular measures against it and the amount would be better described as a steady supply rather than a growing problem.

I’ve heard that the Romans brought it to the UK and valued it as a food source. It was certainly used in medieval monasteries, where it was observed to be effective against gout as well as other properties. I wouldn’t want to try treating myself with it without a lot more research but I did try a few washed leaves brewed in hot water as a tisane (herbal tea) this weekend and it was quite pleasant. The initial taste reminded me of fresh peas – probably chlorophyll – but then a subtle, pleasant liquorice note developed.

It’s a well behaved, self sustaining plant and, although I wouldn’t encourage it to spread further, I’m glad to give it shelter in the margins of my garden.

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