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FOOD Forage for your supper


The fresh taste of ground elder is delicious in a salad.
?The fresh taste of ground elder is delicious in a salad.

Weed out your supper

Hans Wieland

According to ‘The Forager handbook’, by Miles Irving, ground elder in Ireland is widespread in west Mayo, as well as Galway, Sligo, Clare, Donegal and Kerry.
Many gardeners consider ground elder, with its rambling and extensive roots, a noxious weed. “It grows in damp, shady places, usually in the vicinity of buildings,” writes Pamela Michael in ‘Edible Wild Plants and Herbs’. And she is absolutely right. At our house, this pernicious weed is approaching our conservatory through a little woodland, forming a large patch and smothering other plants.
But I am not afraid! Why? Because I have eaten Giersch, as Ground Elder is known in Germany. It was many years before I set foot on this island – but it’s not unheard of here: I still vividly remember meeting Eugene and his German wife Sigune at Quinnsworth car park in Sligo in the spring of 1985 with a basket full of ground elder leaves in the boot of their car, which they had foraged in Hazelwood. “It’s better than spinach!” they claimed. Well, that is debatable, but it is definitely very edible.  
According to many foragers, ground elder was introduced to the UK and from there to Ireland by the Romans, who saw it as a food source. In medieval Britain it was viewed as a common vegetable. In fact, ground elder belongs to the carrot family. As far as my research can tell, it is still eaten as a spring vegetable in Russia and also in Sweden. It was also used as an excellent cure against gout, because of it’s high levels of Vitamin C, hence its other common name, goutweed.
Ground elder is NOT related to the elder tree and the ternate leaves (each leaf has nine leaflets, grouped in threes) smell quite different – more lemony. They are best used in salads when they are very young. Older leaves can be cooked in soups. We usually harvest from now on and before the plant flowers, and we find they’re a great addition to seasonal springtime dishes.

Ground Elder Soup
What you need
Serves 4

  • 1 heaped colander of fresh, young ground elder leaves
  • 25 g butter
  • 1 shallot/small onion
  • 20g spelt flour
  • Half litre vegetable stock
  • Half litre of milk
  • Salt and pepper to season

What you do
Remove the stalks from the ground elder leaves, wash well and cook in a little salted water for five minutes, and drain. Melt the butter in a saucepan, chop the shallots/onion and sauté gently. Add the flour, the stock and the milk and bring to the boil, stirring continuously to thicken. Add the ground elder leaves, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, season and then liquidize.

How to weed
If you don’t want to defeat it by eating it, then you have a few choices. Mow or cut it constantly and it will eventually succumb. At least, that is what I have been told, but I am very sceptical about that method. More convincing is the advice that says dig out and remove all plants, including the roots, and mulch the area with plastic or any other dark material, and repeat for two years. There’s always the third option: “Curse it, curse it, curse it and so sustain solidarity with fellow gardeners” – so says William Edmunds in ‘Weeds Weeding (& Darwin)’. Good luck!

Hans Wieland is training manager at The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information on organic growing and cooking, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit
Gardening questions or comments? Contact Hans at