As promised I will start my spring herbal collection with an herb from my garden, a weed, as many would call it that at start gave more than one headaches.
That is because when I first moved in my current house, my garden was completely covered by it, and, what I wanted instead, was to design an herbal garden that would mirror my passion, meaning aromatic, medicinal and edible plants. This weed turned out to be almost impossible to eradicate and its roots were making it basically impossible for every other plant to survive out there.
Now, let’s specify that I do not have the blessing of a green thumb on my side to help me in this challenge: actually quite the opposite. I really put all my efforts and knowledge into gardening but no matter how hard I try I am simply not very good at it. And one can blame the type of dirt, the fertilizer, the type of draining system, even moon phases or the planets alignment, but the ugly truth is that I do not have the magic touch. Once I read that you need to sing to plants; that in this way they can feel your presence and your love and they will respond to it by thriving. I really love to think that and to believe that, but if that is true (and why should it not be?) plants definitely do not like me singing. They are not the only one, my mum has always been clear to me: I should not be a singer. And plants seem to agree with her.
But now I am digressing; let’s go back to the my garden. To make the long story short, to get rid of the invasive and immortal weed, I decided to eat it. Do you know any other solution that is “greener” that this one? You save energy by stopping eradicating weed roots in the weekend; you save money by producing less garden garbage and by buying less grocery; you save the environment by not poisoning your garden in order to get rid of the unfortunate weed; and most of all, you make yourself a big gift, by eating super fresh delicious and highly nutritious food that, among others, help your health in many ways.
The weed I am talking about is Ground Elder, also called Bishop’s weed (or wort). It was by chance that I found out I could actually eat my invasive weed. A good friend of mine, Giulia, was working at her urban gardening company “Clorofille” in this shared office for enterpreneurs and start-ups in Noerrebro, called Greecubator. In this place there were some guys who were also working at their project: an app called ByHoest, which people could use to find the exact area where they could find wild food in Denmark. With the name of Skvalderkaal, my weed was also present on the app.
Once the Danish name was converted to the English one (I was not very good at Danish at that point), a world of new possibilities opened its door to me.
Aegopodium podagraria (Apiaceae family) is its latin name and you really can find tons on information on the internet. However, I am used to be quite critical with information and sources, so I decided to go deeper. I looked at many different books about both culinary and medicinal uses of this surprising plants.
The story of Ground Elder and its traditional uses
It was introduced to the north by romans that were consuming it stir fried, in soups and as part of meat stuffing. Quickly enough the plant was adopted by the local monasteries that were using it as nourishing food but also for medicinal purposes. Internally it was used for gout and as a laxative while externally as a poultice for joint pain. Now, I did not found any modern scientific paper demonstrating its medicinal effect but the plant is absolutely known for being a laxative if eaten after blossoming.
That means, my friends, that you should only eat the young leaves, that, beside, taste also so much better. In fact, you can recognize when the plant has become a laxative because when you break the stalk or a leaf, it smells of wet dog. And you definitely do not want to it something that smells like it. The fresh leaf instead has a oily look, and the smell remind of celery, carrot and parsley.
The taste is also reminding of those, with a sent of mandarin. The consistency recalls spinach and the plant contains a lot of essential oils and flavonoid compounds (antioxidants). Ground Elder can be used in a huge variety of dishes because it can substitute celery and parsley in any dish you usually use those, and it has become a routine green vegetable in our house. For those of you, who will be eager to try it, I wanted to suggest you to add it to stir fried spinach together with other spring weeds like for example false nettle (Lamium Purpureum) and nipplewort (Lapsana Communis), which are also very common in Danish gardens. Here are those I made for dinner this week.
Medicinally this plant can be included in a section called “Medicine as food”, which include herbs that can be ingested in huge amount and that require a modest to big amount in order to be effective.
But what you can actually get from eating ground elder?
The plant is going to fill you with a bit amount of precious minerals and is going to have a diuretic effect. Actually most of spring plants are, and that is how they are effective as spring detox. Moreover plants that are laxative after flowering, are usually diuretic when taken young.
One more curiosity: the root is eatable and can be harvested and eaten for culinary purposes all year. Some people, even dry the root and mill it to make flower that then use for baking, like many do with cattail’s root (Typha latifolia). I have promised my self to try this one eventually: I think that it is a wonderful way to grow your veggie intake without compromising too much on carbs goodies.
That being said, ground elder is a surprising wonderful weed and has a long history both as a herb and a food plant. It was clearly highly valued by the romans and medieval monks but for some reason modern herbalism have not considered it important enough. The plant is still on the study by science, which I hope will enlighten us soon with the forgotten secrets ground elder may hold and that are yet to be reviled.
Feel free to leave comments and new types of ways you would use ground elder. I would love to discuss those with you.
Green blessing and “God Weekend”,
Safety warning: Ground Elder is part of the parsley family. There are some plants belonging to this family that are poisonous and one that can certainly cause death: hemlock. Make sure to identify the plant correctly before eating it. If in doubts, do not eat it.