Ground elder – Identification, distribution, edibility.

Aegopodium podagraria

  • Edibility -3 – leaves, seeds
  • Identification -3
  • Distribution – 5
  • Season – All year, best January – June, though its possible to find young shoots at most times of year.
  • Habitat – woodlands, hedgerows, gardens, graveyards – generally close to human habitation.
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This is the safest of the carrot family to identify, and certainly the most common. Its serrated leaves are oval with a point and mostly grow in 3 groups of 3 from a grooved stalk, close to the ground. Umbels of small white flowers appear in late May or June. It has a mild, lemon/parsley-like flavour, making it a natural partner for fish, and is good as a pot herb or salad ingredient. The worlds best restaurant, Noma in Copenhagen uses it in many ways as part of its Scandinavian Forage Cuisine style, so don’t let anyone tell you its just a nasty weed! That said, you should certainly familiarise yourself with its poisonous cousins before picking. See also this page: Know Your Carrots!

Probably due to its liking for graveyards, or possibly its historic use by monks, ground elder is also commonly known as bishop’s weed. It has close carrot family relations throughout the world, including ajwain which is widely used in Indian cooking. This sometimes also goes by the name of bishop’s weed, though it is a different species – trachyspernum ammi. The spice itself comes from the seed pods.

Ground elder is best eaten between February and June when it flowers. After this the taste becomes less pleasant and can have a mild laxative effect! If you are husbanding a patch (as opposed to trying to destroy like most gardeners!), nipping off the flower heads keeps them tasty for longer.

Ground elder shoots in February – when they are at their most tasty

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2 Responses to “Ground elder – Identification, distribution, edibility.”

  1. Although the seeds of Ground Elder are remarkably like those of Ajwain, they are nowhere as flavoursome. Can the flavour be enhanced by, say, toasting, or other treatment?

    • Hi David,

      I’m still experimenting with seeds/spices and completely agree with you. Somebody has told me that lovage seeds a more similar in flavour and I have been playing with some scots lovage seeds which are good. I also recommend wild carrot, hogweed, alexander and sweet cicely seeds among the apiaceae as excellent wild spices.
      Roasting, drying, pickling, lacto-fermenting and freezing are all treatments that can preserve/enhance flavours, but i’m not really in a position yet to give you any definitive advice on what works for what. I have a lifetime of experimenting to do! I’m hoping to write a blog soon on my discoveries to date. Please do let me know if you come across any treatments/uses for wild seeds that are exciting.
      Best wishes,

      Mark.

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