Goutweed by Any Other Name . . .

By —— Bio and Archives--September 16, 2017

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Botanically, it is Aegopodium podagraria. In gardening parlance, it often answers to Goutweed, along perhaps as Gout Wort, Ground Elder, Bishop’s Weed, Herb Gerard, Snow-in-the Mountain, even Wild Masterwort. And those are the printable names. For this rhizomatous perennial has been described as ‘one of the worst garden weeds in the perennial garden.’ Yet still some garden centers continue to retail it.

Said to have been introduced into Britain by Romans as a food plant, it is indeed a leafy early spring vegetable green treated in a comparable manner to spinach. Older leaves develop a more pungent flavour, according to online Sacred Earth. Unfortunately, most other sources agree that indulging following flowering reveals its laxative properties.

Monks may have grown goutweed as a medicinal herb at monasteries in Northern Europe. Many such sites are said to continue to be marked by such profuse growth. Thus, the designation for treatment of the painful arthritic disease, believed for centuries to be caused by over-indulgence in rich foods and alcoholic beverages. Indeed, bishop’s goutweed, a not unusual British designation, associates diets of the clergy with this affliction. A decoction was also recommended to treatment of hemorrhoids, also recognized as a clerical problem.

Perhaps lacking goutweed, seventeenth-century horticulturist and diarist John Evelyn claimed English elm leaves alleviated gout. On a more cheerful note, two centuries later in the 1840s, cider was also reputedly good, if regularly drunk, for gout, rheumatism, and bladder stones. However, even Mrs. M. Grieves in her celebrated A Modern Herbal in the early 20th century, warned of diuretic and sedative effects. Notwithstanding, as late as the 1960s it was still suggested as a decoction to be drunk twice daily for gout.

Whether introduced around the world for medicinal use or as an ornamental, this invasive exotic from Eurasia tolerates shade and flourishes under virtually any other cultural condition. So invasive is it, that it has been banned in several U.S. states.

Next to the now-notorious Japanese knotweed, it is perhaps one of the worst invasive species to control. Leaving the smallest portion of rhizome in the soil will result in a fresh invasion. A gardener communicating with the UBC Botanic Garden Hortline claimed:

I was able to eradicate a small area in my vegetable garden by digging down 2 feet, removing all roots, and allowing the area to sit fallow for six months covered with black plastic.

The latter is the advice of many others, a process known as solarizing. As Randy Shore in The Vancouver Sun suggests for all such weeds, “Cover the whole area with black plastic and let the sun cook everything.” But for how long should the area remain covered? Danielle Tassie of the Ontario Invasive Plant Council was reported in The Globe and Mail as recommending to “Dig it out for four or five years; or remove or starve the leaves by mowing in spring or cover with a dark tarpaulin.” Less labour-intensive Credit Valley Conservation, also from Ontario, claims it is “Easily controlled by digging up the plant (with careful attention to removing the entire rhizome) or covering with a tarp or weed barrier for at least one growing season.”

Back in the justly famed UBC Botanical Garden, Douglas Justice says that, “A maintained sward of good turf (start with sod, not seed) with starve/exhaust/prevent new regrowth.” Meanwhile, the Gardening Channel recommends, “Dig up small areas at a time, sift the soil to remove every piece of root; solarisation; herbicide.”

If all this seems too much, on the plus side, an enthusiastic gardener in Quebec notes that ‘rabbits don’t eat this plant.’

Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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