Foraging for Ground elder / Bishops weed (Aegopodium podagraria) Apiaceae
Learn how to confidently identify ground elder from other carrot family plants.
To gardeners, ground elder is an absolute pain. This low-growing herbaceous perennial plant spreads quickly and can suppress other plants, creating dense carpets of triangular-shaped leaves.
This edible wild plant was reportedly introduced by the Romans. It is now found all over the British Isles except for the highest barren mountain peaks, and patches of Cornwall.
Leaves: Triangular-shaped, dull green, with leaflets grouped in sets of threes. This tri-ternate arrangement is also found on alexanders.
The 3-8 cm leaflets are lanceolate-ovate. Each leaflet is irregularly serrated. They may be found on stalks or are sessile. Essential oils are present in the leaves, giving it a unique, if recognisable, aroma when crushed.
Petioles: Solid and up to 15 cm long. Sheathing at the base, and with tufts of hairs in leaf axils. Somewhat channeled.
Stems: The hollow stems have ridges. They reach up to 60 cm high. These also contain essential oils.
Flowers: White compound umbels. They have almost symmetrical flowers with 5 petals
Flowering season: April-June
Fruits: Two fused barrel-shaped seed pods, each with a persisting drooping stigma, giving the appearance of wings.
Habitat: Numerous settings throughout the country
Harvesting: The leaves are best used in salads as soon as they appear. When they get older, the foliage gets markedly tougher and are then only suitable if chopped and used as a pot herb.
Other notes: Contains high concentrations of the polyacetylene compound falcarindiol. This molecule is of interest to pharmaceutical companies, because it has demonstrated anticancer activity, and stops fungal spores germinating.
It has been reported that up to 9% of the dry weight of ground elder flowers will be falcarindiol. It has a range of other volatile components, giving it that somehwat recognisable smell of somewhere between parsley and celery. An overview of medicinal plant constituents was presented in this article.
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