Ground elder – Identification, distribution, edibility.
- 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.
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.
Return to wild plant guide.