Ground-elder is another one of the white hedgerow umbellifers that help to give that early summer look to our lanes and byways. The name is because the leaves look like the leaves of the bush Elder, but they do not smell the same…. Elder has a disgusting smell.
Just a casual glance and you might mistake it for Cow Parsley, but the leaves are quite different. With regards to the flowers, there are subtle differences. Firstly they tend to be at their best in the first week of June by which time the Cow Parsley is past its best. Also it is a bit shorter and I would describe it as a neater plant. The individual umbells are more contained, smaller and less of them. I also think they look more white than Cow Parsley, brighter white, perhaps it is because the individual flowers that make up the umbell are more closely packed together.
Many gardeners dislike this plant, it is quite invasive and evidently difficult to eradicate. I remember we had it growing in our garden in Galleywood, near Chelmsford, Essex when I was a boy. It did not bother me but my Father used to spend lots of time trying to dig it up and remove it. The plant spreads with underground rhizomes which mat together making it difficult to dig into and also preventing anything else from growing. Also if you do manage to dig into it and pull up the rhizomes then every little piece that you accidentally leave in the ground will produce a new plant and you will soon be back to where you started. I do not think my Father ever got the better of it. However it did grow in a fairly dark area of the garden where probably not much else would have grown so I wonder why be bothered.
If you search for Ground-elder on the internet you will find loads of sites that are about how you can remove it from your garden, it obviously bothers many gardeners, not just my Father.
Despite all this it does have its uses.The plant is said to have been introduced into Britain by the Romans as a food plant and into Northern Europe as a medicinal herb by monks. Evidently you can use it in the same way as spinach, collecting the leaves when they are tender and first appear in February through till late May, but once the leaves become older they have a bad taste and can be a laxative.. not to be recommended.
I received a nice comment the other day…. so here it is
Hi Alan , I am enjoying your blog very much. I am learning more than I get from my usual books and I enjoy your humour. I am a keen naturalist and a professional gardener which can be a bit conflicting. The ground elder issue is a case in point. I am quite relaxed about ground elder too ! I have heard that growing vinca can eradicate it but haven’t tried it !