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Goutweed Has a Foot Hold-{herbal Application}

Updated on August 4, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

Ground elder or goutweed is a member of the Apiaceae family formerly known as the umbeliferae., a family which includes such well known herbs as parsley, celery, angelica, fennel and coriander. The family also includes some of our most poisonous species.. Species such as hemlock, fools' parsley and the hemlock water dropwort. Some of these latter species have caused fatalities through misidentification, ie, collected in mistake for one of the beneficial plants. The plant is not in any way related to the Elder tree Sambucus nigra which belongs to the honeysuckle family, but gets its name because the leaves have a superficial resemblance to those of that tree.

Other common names the plant has acquired include, Jack-Jump-About, Bishop's herb gerard and goat weed. The name goat weed was attached to the plant because of the foliage which was said to have a fanciful resemblance to the shape of a goat's foot. Indeed the genus name of Aegopodium alludes to that fact deriving from the Greek aigos a goat and pous -a foot. The species name derives from the Latin word for gout Podgraga alluding to its medicinal virtue. The plant was introduced by monks who grew it near to their monasteries as a pot herb and for medicinal preparations.

Components of Goutweed

Illustration of goutweed.
Illustration of goutweed.

Basic Biology of Goutweed.

The plant has a creeping rootstock which it utilises to get established. It can spread with great rapidity when unchecked. As many a gardener will confirm it is almost impossible to eradicate. It is an introduction, a guest , that refuses to leave. it is associated with human habitation, however, some times it escapes into the wider countryside where it readily establishes at the expence of native species.

It is a stout erect plant, coarse without hairs, perennial, attaining the height of 1-2feet (30-60cm), which is not as tall as some of the members of this family. The stem is round and furrowed and hollow, branched towards the top.

Goutweed foliage

foliage of goutweed. (ground elder) Photograph by D.A.L.
foliage of goutweed. (ground elder) Photograph by D.A.L.


LEAVES--- once or twice pinnate {divided} with finely toothed lobes. Lower are stalked the upper leaves with inflated sheathing base.

Flowers and seeds--- The umbels of flowers are relatively large for the size of the plant with numerous small white flowers which appear from June to August. seed bessels are flat and when ripe they are detached and jerked by the wind for some distance, giving rise to the country name of Jack-jump-about.

Ground elder in your garden.---- because it spreads by rhizomes at an alarming rate it can creep under the fence from neighbouring gardens or neighbouring waste ground. It is a difficult plant to eradicate for although the rhizomes are near to the surface, thus being reasonably easy to dig up, it only needs a fraction of the rhizome to be overlooked for renewed growth to begin. Thus this is an ongoing task that make take several seasons to complete eviction. This persistent squatter will always attempt to regain its foothold.

There is a cultivated variety that does not spread as vigorously as its wild cousin but it does need to be kept in check.

Top Goutweed foliage. below cultivated variety foliage

Goutweed soon takes over large areas.Photograph by D.A.L.
Goutweed soon takes over large areas.Photograph by D.A.L.
A cultivated variety that does not spread in the same way has its wild counterpart. Photograph courtesy of Gregory Phillips.
A cultivated variety that does not spread in the same way has its wild counterpart. Photograph courtesy of Gregory Phillips.

Medicinal Virtues

Ground elder, is equally known as goutweed,which implies that the plant was indeed used to counteract the symptoms of gout. The plant is used in a fomentation for the affected limb. It is recommended that the leaves and roots be boiled together and applied as hot as possible to the joint and occasionally renewed, will have a beneficial affect.

WHAT IS GOUT?--Gout is an arthritic {inflammation of the joint} condition that causes swelling and considerable pain to the sufferer. It commonly occurs in the big toe but it can attack other parts such as the instep, knee, ankle,finger, wrist and elbow. It is a severe pain that can develop in a matter of hours, along with the pain the symptoms are swelling and warm around the joint, red or shiny skin around the affected part.

It is caused by a high level of urate {uric acid} a chemical present in the blood. However, not every one with a high level of urate get gout. The reason for this is not fully understood.

Goutweed has also been utilised as a diuretic and as a sedative.

It has long been utilized as a pot herb. However, for this use it must be collected before the flowers appear. After this point the plant has a laxative affect. flowering can be delayed by nipping put the flower buds in order to prolong its use as a pot herb.

Fomentation----a substance used in a warm moist medicinal compress or poultice.

Pot herb-----is basically leaf vegetables. ie, plant leaves cooked as a vegetable. These were very popular in days gone by.

White flowers of the Goutweed

The white flowers of goutweed are borne in umbels. Photograph courtesy of Carrona
The white flowers of goutweed are borne in umbels. Photograph courtesy of Carrona


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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi timorous thank you for visiting. You are right about goutweed being difficult to eradicate it can take several years to be rid of it completely.

    • timorous profile image

      timorous 7 years ago from Me to You

      Oh yes...I remember trying to eradicate goutweed from my mum's garden many years ago. Depending on the soil and the surrounding shrubs and trees, it can be relatively easy if you dig deeply and carefully (in spite of the shallow growth habit).

      However, in one section it was severely intertwined with the roots of some cedar hedging. It took a couple of years to get rid of it there.

      The bi-coloured leaf variety makes a nice groundcover though...

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      itakins, If I have motivated one person to appreciate wild flora the time has been worth it. Wild flora is a fascinating subject which as many avenues to explore. I will be doing more hubs on the subject which may help you with your investigations. Thank you for reading and for leaving your appreciated comment.

    • itakins profile image

      itakins 7 years ago from Irl

      Fascinating information here-you have motivated me to investigate all these plants growing around me.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Darlene, the foliage of this plant is far larger than those of mint. Shaman compliment indeed. Thank you my friend.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      The Gout-weed looks like a mint leaf from your photo which reminds me I want to plant mint just for the smell after the rains. You take so great pictures Dave, I love your hubs as you know, you are called a shaman in the Native American world, and now that is my new name for you. Love this hub, love the education, advise and your photo's. rate thumbs up

    • msorensson profile image

      msorensson 7 years ago

      Wow..thanks, very educational. We have these!!