What is goutweed? Common goutweed or ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) is an edible plant that grows wild. Goutweed is the only variety of the Aegopodium species that grows in Europe.
Can you eat goutweed? Goutweed (ground elder, bishop’s weed) is a delicious wild vegetable. Eaten raw, the flavor and taste of goutweed are reminiscent of parsley and carrot. When cooked, it tastes like spinach.
The plant’s leafy shoots, leaves, blossoms, seeds, and buds can be used, but the leaf stalks are not eaten as often as the other plant parts. The seeds have a spicy flavor, while the flowers are pleasantly sweet. After the plant blooms, the leaves take on a stronger and more bitter flavor, which makes them better suited to tea infusions or cooking rather than for eating raw. The leaf stalks, which are also bitter, are high in fiber. The best plant stalks to use are those that grow on plants in shady wooded areas because they tend to be young, juicy, and thicker. Cut the stems lengthwise and remove the fibers.
The young leaf shoots are particularly tasty in spring as the base for a salad or as a raw vegetable. You can also use the raw leaves as a substitute for parsley in bulgur and chickpea salad, smoothies, pesto, or as a spread. Goutweed tastes good cooked or steamed in (cream-) soups, stews, and strudels, and it is an excellent substitute for spinach or vegetable filling on pizza, in dumplings, and in herb soups.
For four servings, cut 4 tomatoes and 3 avocados, and arrange them on plates in an alternating pattern. Place a mixture of greens comprised of 20 g goutweed, 20 g spinach, 20 g nettles, 20 g arugula, and 20 g ribwort plantain in the center of each plate. Mix a dressing from 1 tablespoon poppy seeds, 6 tablespoons lime juice, 3 tablespoons canola oil, 0.5 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon agave syrup, 1 pinch of salt, and 1 pinch of pepper, and drizzle it on top of the carpaccio. Click HERE for the complete recipe.
For one cup of tea, tear 2 tablespoons fresh goutweed leaves into small pieces, place them in a heatproof container, and add 250 ml boiling water. Allow the tea to steep for 5–10 minutes before removing the leaves.
|Not only vegans and vegetarians should read this: |
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You will not likely be able to buy goutweed in a store. It is not available in large supermarkets or in most organic markets. Dried goutweed (ground elder) can be purchased on the Internet, most commonly as an organic tea sold under its Latin name (Aegopodium podagraria).
If you want to grow goutweed in your garden, you can also sometimes find seeds or seedlings online. Unfortunately, it is easier to find herbicides to kill goutweed than it is to find seeds to plant.
Where can I find goutweed? You can frequently find it in gardens; damp, shady scrub; sparsely-covered deciduous wooded areas; along hedges and the edges of paths; and in parks. A widespread and readily available plant, goutweed prefers nitrogen-rich, loose, and nutrient-rich clay and loam soils.1
Goutweed’s leaves (leaf blades) are biternate or bipinnate and alternate on the stem. The leaf stems can grow up to 20 cm and are grooved and hollow. The flower stem can reach up to 90 cm high. The flower head is an umbel, where 12–18 flower-bearing pedicels attach to the same point of the peduncle, giving the flower its umbrella-like appearance. The seeds are mericarps similar to cumin. The entire plant exudes a smell typical of parsley.1
Season: you can harvest the leaf shoots from March to April, the flower buds in May, the full flowers from June to August, and the ripe seeds from July to September. Goutweed blooms mainly in the months of June, July, and August. Goutweed is a partly winter-green plant, whose tender leaves close to the ground survive mild winters and can therefore be plucked almost year-round.1,2
Goutweed (ground elder, bishop’s weed) can be used fresh, frozen, or carefully dried. To dry the herb, you can spread it out on a kitchen towel and simply let it dry in the air. In the drying process, avoid exposing the leaves to direct sunlight. When the plants rustle when touched, they are sufficiently dry, and you can cut them into small pieces with scissors. Goutweed can be stores in paper bags, metal cans or brown glasses.3
Goutweed contains minerals, vitamins (vitamin A and vitamin C), resin, essential oils, flavonoids, and phenolcarboxylic acids.2 It is an important source of vitamin C and copper. One hundred grams freshly picked goutweed contains 2 mg copper and 140 mg vitamin C (ascorbic acid).14
Higher values of copper can be found in port wine (10 mg/100 g), sesame (4.08 mg/100 g), and cacao beans and cocoa powder (3.79 mg/100 g). More vitamin C is available in acerola (Barbados cherry) (1'677.6 mg/100 g), sea buckthorn (450 mg/100 g), garlic mustard (261 mg/100 g), and guava (228.3 mg/100 g).14
There is no evidence for the effectiveness of goutweed (ground elder) either in popular applications or in contemporary pharmaceutical publications.1
Coumarin is an aromatic organic chemical compound that occurs naturally not only in goutweed but also in other plants and plant derivatives such as cinnamon. The compound has a pleasantly spicy flavor. The highest concentration of coumarin is found in the plant’s leaf stems. Ingesting large quantities of coumarin can be harmful to your health.4 If you plan to consume goutweed frequently, avoid the leaf stems in favor of young leaves and other parts of the plant.
The thread-like roots of the goutweed contain falcarindiol, which is slightly toxic, and is also found in carrots as well as in other root vegetables. Falcarindiol kills fungus and may have properties that guard against cancer. Excessive consumption of the roots can lead to symptoms of mild poisoning, such as inflammatory skin irritation or allergic reactions.5,6
Goutweed does not belong to a family of plants considered to have medical applications and is therefore not used in conventional medicine.
What is goutweed good for? In folk medicine and naturopathy, it is traditionally used for its gently calming, lightly diuretic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and deacidifying effects. You can take the herb internally for gout (hence the moniker) and for sciatica. You can also crush the herb for external applications such as compresses for gout, insect bites, burns, and arthritis, and even as a bath to treat hemorrhoids.2,7
Goutweed can be found in almost all of Europe and in the belts of the deciduous forest in Eurasia’s temperate continental areas. The plant is also located in Turkey, the Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Siberia. Goutweed is not native to North America, though it has already been introduced there.1
Goutweed is a sprawling plant that can take over an entire garden with its root system. If you want to cultivate goutweed, it is best to plant it either in a large pot or in the ground with a root barrier to block its roots from taking over the garden. Root barriers made of plastic or tile work well, provided that they reach at least 50 cm deep into the ground. Stones and nets will be insufficient to block the plant’s roots. As an alternative, you could plant goutweed in the ground in its own pot. Trim spent blossoms in time to prevent the plant from self-seeding.8
Today, there are variegated cultivars in green and white (Aegopodium podagraria variegatum or variegata), which do not spread as wildly and are therefore better suited for garden and balcony cultivation.
Poison or spotted hemlock (Conium maculatum) is one of the most poison native plant species that is confused with goutweed. Its stem, however, is smooth, and usually either spotted with red or covered with a reddish skin. Another distinguishing feature is poison hemlock’s pungent odor. If poison or spotted hemlock comes into contact with the mucous membranes in the mouth, the affected person will notice a burning sensation in his or her mouth, increased salivation, difficulty swallowing, and tongue paralysis, which are all symptoms of hemlock poisoning. Consuming hemlock can lead to general paralysis and respiratory arrest within a short period of time.9,10
The great water parsnip or wideleaf waterparsnip (Sium latifolium) is a poisonous plant found in marshy or swampy areas, most frequently in the nutrient-rich muddy soils on the banks of inland bodies of water in temperate latitudes. Consuming water parsnip roots and fruits will lead to vomiting and diarrhea, two signs of poisoning.11
Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is also a very toxic plant that looks like goutweed. Even though giant hogweed is clearly larger than goutweed with thicker stems covered in red spots, the white umbels on both can lead people — especially children — to confuse the two plants. Simple skin contact with giant hogweed causes painful burns that last an entire week and become worse in sunlight.12
Fool’s parsley or poison parsley (Aethusa cynapium) and cow parsley (Chaerophyllum) are two other poisonous plants that look like goutweed. Before you go out to pick goutweed, be sure that you can recognize it clearly and differentiate it from these poisonous varieties.
Goutweed’s flower head is similar to that of yarrow (Achillea millefolium), but yarrow is not poisonous. It is actually a traditional medicinal plant.
Goutweed is a bee-friendly plant that provides nectar to flies, hover flies, wasps, and bees from its open, umbrella-like flowers from May to July. This makes goutweed a good choice of plant for bee pastures.13
Common goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria) is one of five to seven species from the genus Aegopodium in the family Umbelliferae (Apiaceae).1,7
Well-known alternative names for goutweed are ashweed, bishop’s weed, bishopswort, goatweed, gout wort, ground ash, ground elder, bishop’s goutweed, herb gerard, jack-jump-about, snow-in-the-mountain, English masterwort, and wild masterwort. Wikipedia lists numerous other common regional names.1
The German name Geissfuss or Geißfuß (goat foot) is a literal translation of the Greek name, which is comprised of aigos, which means goat, and podos, which means foot. The species name podagraria comes from the Latin podagra, which means gout, and refers to its traditional use as a gout remedy.7