Ground elder: Evil weed or tasty snack?

When we first had a look at our allotment, we weren’t aware of how large it was. On further inspection, we realised an overgrown patch at the back of the allotment was ours as well. Unfortunately, the healthy green growth that covered the area consisted mostly of ground elder.

Ground elder is one of the most pernicious weeds known to the British gardener. Introduced by the Romans as a pot herb, it gradually fell out of favour for a number of reasons, chief among them its annoying habit of spreading like wildfire, taking over a garden and crowding out any other plants in its way. It spreads through rhizomes, forming a thick mat of roots just below the surface of the soil and twining around the roots of other plants, gradually choking them.

Opinions differ as to how to get rid of the wretched stuff. The most popular choice is a weed killer called glycophosphate, easily available in the form of Roundup. Some people choose to dig out the roots, but as the plant can regrow from even the tiniest fragment of root, you can find yourself having to dispose of as much as six inches of topsoil from your garden. James declared his intention of pulling up the leaves and stems of the plants and covering them with a thick layer of newspaper mulch. He reacted with disgust to any mention of glycophosphate, while I planned some underhanded activity.

While we were arguing over how to kill off the ground elder, though, we decided to make as much use as possible of what was there already. Since the Romans liked it so much, we might as well try it. The young leaves of ground elder can be eaten raw as salad, and they have a strong celery-like flavour. The older leaves can be cooked like kale. I picked three carrier bags full of leaves and brought them home.


After a couple of hours of processing (sorting through the leaves, removing the odd snail, chopping, blanching, draining, chopping again), I had nine 200-gram freezer bags of ready-to-use ground elder.


Most of that went into the freezer. Our first recipe was hortapita, a rustic Greek pie similar to spanikopita but rougher and tougher in every way. I got the recipe from a lovely blog called NAMI-NAMI:

James and I judged it delicious, if incredibly rich, although Robert refused to eat it. Persuaded to try a bite, he made retching noises and spat it out.


I can confirm that ground elder also makes an excellent ingredient in saag paneer. It’s very strongly flavoured and works well in dishes with lots of spices.



About emilyallwright

I'm an American living in England with my husband and small child. I'm interested in sustainable living and old-fashioned skills, detective fiction and folk music.
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