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Goutweed (aegopodium podagraria) was rare when Haliburton Flora was compiled, in one spot even. It was on an open damp roadside, an escapee from cultivation – a mere hint of how invasive this plant would become. Now you can find it taking over lawns and parks. It’s even crept into the west side of Algonquin Park. It’s one of the most complained about invasive plants that people have a hard time removing from their yards. There’s even The Goutweed Support Group on Facebook.
One of its many folk names is bishopsweed, but more than one plant is called bishopsweed. Some call it ground elder. Goutweed has a resemblance to its relatives in the carrot family, including poison hemlock and wild parsnip; goutweed can cause the same photosensitivity and rashes that wild parsnip and hogweed have a viral reputation for! It could also be mistaken for sweet cicely, a native plant in the carrot family.
Edible Uses of Goutweed
This parsley family herb can be used as a parsley or celery substitution, especially before flowering. The young stalks have a strong celery smell and even resemble celery. One of its folknames is “fairy celery”.
It has a long history as a potherb, beginning in Italy. The young unfurled leaves and young stalks can be mixed in with mild salad greens or used fresh or dried in cooking. With age, the leaves have a strong cumin like taste that some may find overpowering. Cooking can make the taste milder.
Since it’s invasive, you don’t have to worry about over harvesting, but do be careful to not spread the rhizomes or seeds. This plant has taken over our city park. That’s a common place you’ll find it. If someone in a neighbourhood has planted it, you may find it all over the neighbourhood. Look where there’s some shade and disturbed soil.
Medicinal Uses of Goutweed
Goutweed is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Diuretic, Laxative, and Sedative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes a long history of treating gout and arthritis. Its leaves and roots are used as a hot poultice.
Growing Aegopodium Podagraria
My main job in recent years has been as an informal caregiver for the elderly, mainly people with severe mobility issues. One of these jobs was “downtown” in my town. The lady had a goutweed problem. It was taking over her back and side yard. She told me how a neighbour had introduced it, and said neighbour eventually had their own yard dug up and re-sodded. In the meantime, it aggressively spread into surrounding neighbours yards including hers. And it leapt across the highway too, invading our little park. So instead of native plants, our little park is half goutweed and half mowed. It’s one of the most invasive plants outside of the Mediterranean. The variegated variety is only slightly less aggressive.
In a pot, you can nip the flower buds to keep it longer as an edible potherb. But for planting outside, it’s illegal in some places. It’s yet to be regulated in Ontario as of 2022. Wild ginger (asarum canadense) is one of many native alternatives. You can download Grow Me Instead: A Guide for Southern Ontario for more suggestions.
For those fighting a takeover, cutting them down and smothering the area with cardboard et al reduces it. Be sure to deadhead the flowers. It will take time. See current best management practices from the Ontario Invasive Plant Council.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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