What is ground elder? 9 ways how to tackle it

Ground elder, also known as bishop’s weed or goutweed, is a perennial weed that spreads aggressively and can quickly take over gardens. Let’s take a closer look at this pesky plant.

Ground elder is a tricky weed that can sneak into gardens and be hard to get rid of!

It’s a plant that loves shady, wet places. It originally came from Europe and Asia but now grows in many parts of the world.

Aegopodium podagraria common name

The common name for Aegopodium podagraria is ground elder or herb gerard. It is also sometimes called bishop’s weed or goutweed.

Aegopodium podagraria edible

The leaves, stems, and rhizomes (underground rootlike stems) of ground elder are all edible. Here are some tips for eating ground elder:

  • The young leaves can be eaten raw in salads. They have a flavor similar to parsley.
  • The leaves can also be cooked and used like spinach. They get bitter when they mature, so use young leaves.
  • The stems can be steamed or sautéed. They have a taste comparable to asparagus.
  • The rhizomes can be boiled, roasted, or sautéed. They taste somewhat like potatoes.

Ground elder is a versatile edible wild plant that can be used in many recipes. It has been consumed as a food and medicine since ancient times.

Aegopodium podagraria seeds

Ground elder spreads easily since each plant can produce thousands of seeds. Here are some key facts about ground elder seeds:

  • Seeds are small, around 1.5-2 mm long.
  • They are flattened and oval shaped.
  • Seeds are brown in color with faint striping.
  • They contain tiny oil droplets that help them float on water and get dispersed by animals.
  • Seeds ripen in mid to late summer.
  • Each flower head contains 2-4 seeds.
  • Plants produce hundreds of flower heads and thousands of seeds.
  • Seeds spread near parent plants via gravity, water, animals, and human activity.
  • Seeds can remain dormant but viable in soil for 2-3 years.

Ground elder’s prolific seed production helps it spread rapidly. This contributes to its invasive tendencies in some areas.

Aegopodium podagraria medicinal use

Ground elder has a long history of medicinal use going back to ancient times. Here are some of its traditional medicinal applications:

  • Treating gout – Ground elder’s common name goutweed comes from its traditional use relieving painful gout symptoms.
  • Digestive aid – It was used to stimulate appetite, relieve indigestion, and ease stomach cramps.
  • Diuretic – As a diuretic, it helped flush excess water and toxins from the body.
  • Anti-inflammatory – Chemicals in ground elder reduce inflammation and swelling when applied topically.
  • Antimicrobial – Lab studies show ground elder extracts have antibacterial and antifungal properties.

While little modern research exists, ground elder’s traditional medicinal uses indicate it may have beneficial health effects. However, consult a doctor before using herbal remedies.

How to get rid of aegopodium podagraria

Ground elder is considered an invasive weed in some areas because it spreads rapidly and chokes out other plants. Here are some methods to get rid of ground elder:

Organic methods

  • Digging up plants – This is effective for small infestations but labor intensive. Remove all roots and rhizomes.
  • Cutting stems – Cutting stems repeatedly depletes root reserves and prevents flowering. Do this weekly in summer.
  • Mulching – Smother plants under 4-6 inches of mulch for 1-2 growing seasons. Organic mulch like wood chips works best.
  • Solarization – Cover area with clear plastic for 1-2 summers to increase heat and kill plants/seeds.

Chemical methods

  • Herbicide spraying – Use glyphosate or triclopyr herbicides. Follow label directions carefully. May take several applications.
  • Vinegar spraying – Use horticultural vinegar with at least 20% acetic acid. Spray leaves thoroughly.
  • Salt water – Boil a salt water solution and pour over plants. Use 1 lb salt per gallon of water.

Combining organic and chemical methods often leads to the best results. Persistence is key, as ground elder is very hard to eradicate fully once established.

Aegopodium podagraria ‘variegatum’ seeds

‘Variegatum’ is a variety of ground elder with attractive white-edged green and white leaves. It is sometimes sold as an ornamental plant. Key facts about ‘Variegatum’ seeds:

  • Seeds are identical to regular ground elder seeds.
  • ‘Variegatum’ produces less seeds than the solid green type.
  • Seeds readily cross-pollinate with regular ground elder.
  • Dropped ‘Variegatum’ seeds revert back to solid green ground elder plants.
  • Purchased ‘Variegatum’ seeds often contain a mix of variegated and non-variegated.
  • It is very difficult to ensure pure ‘Variegatum’ plants from seed.
  • Propagation from root division is the best way to maintain variegation.

So while ‘Variegatum’ ground elder seeds are commercially available, seedling plants commonly lose leaf variegation.

Aegopodium podagraria ‘variegatum

‘Variegatum’ is a variety of ground elder with attractive white-edged green and white leaves. Here are some key facts:

  • Leaves have irregular white margins and splotches.
  • Provides unique contrast and visual interest.
  • Adds decorative foliage color in shaded areas.
  • Grows 12-18 inches tall and spreads by underground rhizomes.
  • Has same aggressive spreading habit as regular ground elder.
  • Considered invasive in some regions, check local status.
  • Used as ornamental groundcover or edging plant.
  • Thrives in shade and moist, fertile soil. Tolerates clay soil.
  • Hardy in USDA zones 4-8.
  • Propagate by root division in spring or fall.

While visually striking, ‘Variegatum’ ground elder requires management to prevent overspreading into unwanted areas. Monitor and dig out unwanted rhizomes.

Aegopodium podagraria native range

Ground elder is native to Europe and parts of Asia. Here is more detail on its native range:

  • Indigenous to continental Europe and western Asia.
  • Native range includes areas within the Caucasus mountains, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece.
  • Grows wild in forests and woodlands, along streams, and in meadows.
  • Naturalized and spread by humans across much of Europe over centuries.
  • Introduced to North America, UK, and other regions as an edible and medicinal plant.
  • Now widely naturalized and weedy across Canada, northern and central US, and New Zealand.
  • Classified as an invasive exotic species in non-native areas where it spreads aggressively.
  • Outcompetes and displaces native plants in undisturbed natural areas.

Understanding the native origin and range of ground elder provides clues into how it behaves in introduced environments. This knowledge helps guide management strategies.

Some key facts about ground elder:

  • It has green leaves that form clumpy patches on the ground.
  • In summer it grows cute little white flowers.
  • Under the ground it has long creeping stems called rhizomes that spread out in all directions.
  • These sneaky underground stems form a huge tangled web that can be difficult to dig up.
  • Ground elder spreads quickly and takes over areas, crowding out flowers and vegetables we want to grow.

But ground elder isn’t all bad! It contains:

  • Natural chemicals called essential oils that can fight germs.
  • Vitamins and minerals that are healthy, like vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, and calcium.
  • Antioxidants called flavonoids that are good for bodies.

Even though ground elder has some good properties, it tends to cause more problems than positives in gardens.

The best way to get rid of ground elder is by using weed killers that have chemicals called glyphosate.

remove ground elder


Ground elder is a carrot family member and has some similarities in appearance to parsley. Here are some of its key identifying features:

  • Leaves – The leaves are divided into three leaflets with toothed edges. They are shiny green on top and paler green on the underside.
  • Flowers – Small white flowers bloom in umbrella-shaped clusters in spring.
  • Stems – The stems are hollow and grooved and can reach 60-90 cm tall. They are green with reddish spots.
  • Roots – Ground elder spreads rapidly via white underground stems called rhizomes. These rhizomes form a dense mat under the soil.
  • Smell – The leaves give off an unpleasant, musky smell when crushed.

Here is a quick table summarizing the appearance of ground elder:

Here is a quick table summarizing the appearance of ground elder:

LeavesDivided into 3 leaflets, toothed edges, shiny green top/paler green underside
FlowersSmall, white, umbrella-shaped clusters
StemsHollow, grooved, green with reddish spots, 60-90 cm tall
RootsWhite rhizomes form dense mat underground
SmellUnpleasant, musky odor when crushed

The Problem

So why is ground elder considered such a nuisance weed? Here are some of the main problems it causes:

  • Invasive and fast spreading – Due to its aggressive underground rhizomes, ground elder spreads rapidly and can quickly take over gardens. Even small fragments of root left in the soil can form new plants.
  • Difficult to remove – The dense and mat-like root system makes manual removal very difficult. Digging often leaves fragments behind, leading to re-growth.
  • Ramps up nutrients – Ground elder is very efficient at absorbing nutrients like nitrogen. This gives it a competitive advantage over slower-growing plants.
  • Alters soil composition – Chemical secretions from ground elder roots affect soil structure and composition. This can inhibit the growth of other plants.
  • Diminishes native species – By outcompeting other plants, the ground elder can reduce biodiversity in gardens and natural areas.

This invasive weed can quickly smother flower beds, vegetable patches, and lawns, making it the bane of many gardeners!


Controlling ground elders takes persistence. Here are some methods that may help tackle it:

Non-chemical solutions

  • Manual digging – Digging up the roots can work for light infestations. Remove all traces of roots and rhizomes. Repeat digging every 2 weeks over the growing season to catch regrowth.
  • Covering – Smother ground elder with black plastic, cardboard, or multiple layers of newspaper for 1-2 growing seasons.
  • Mulching – Mulch heavily with wood chips, garden compost, or grass clippings to a depth of at least 15cm to block light and suppress growth.
  • Solarization – Solarize the soil by covering tightly with clear plastic for several months during hot weather. This traps heat to weaken and kill ground elders.
  • Saltwater – Boiling a robust salt water solution (1 part salt to 5 parts water) and pouring directly on the ground elder may damage it. Take care not to contaminate soil.
  • Flame weeding – Using a propane torch on the leaves and stems can provide control. Again, avoid scorching soil.

Chemical herbicides

If non-chemical methods fail, systemic herbicides specifically targeting ground elder can be used:

will ground elder be kill
  • Glyphosate – Apply glyphosate weedkillers containing 41% glyphosate concentrate directly to leaves. Use a small handheld sprayer for accuracy.
  • Ammonium sulphamate – Products containing this active ingredient are effective on ground elders. Follow product instructions carefully.

Always take safety precautions when using herbicides – wear protective clothing and limit environmental impacts. Only use as a last resort when other methods fail. The below table summarizes control options:


Manual digging : Remove all roots & rhizomes. Repeat every 2 weeks.

Covering Smother with plastic, cardboard or mulch for 1-2 seasons.

Mulching Much heavily to block light & suppress growth.

Solarization Cover soil in clear plastic during hot weather.

Salt water Boil strong solution (1:5) and pour on leaves.

Flame weeding : Cautiously use a propane torch on leaves & stems.

Glyphosate Spot treat leaves with 41% glyphosate concentrate.

Ammonium sulphamate : Use herbicide products containing this active ingredient.

7 Tips for Controlling Ground Elder

Follow these handy tips to stay on top of ground elder in your garden:

  1. Act early before infestation spreads – be vigilant and don’t let ground elder get established.
  2. Remove plants by hand digging before they flower and set seed.
  3. Eliminate every piece of root and rhizome when digging – leave nothing behind!
  4. Solarize, mulch, or cover areas where ground elder was removed to prevent regrowth.
  5. Consider shielding precious plant roots when applying salt water or herbicides.
  6. Always follow herbicide label instructions carefully. Dispose of responsibly.
  7. Be patient and persistent! It can take several years of control methods to eradicate ground elder.

Will vinegar kill ground elder?

Yes, vinegar can kill ground elder if used correctly. According to the search results, vinegar can be an effective and natural way to kill ground elder. However, it is essential to use the right concentration and apply it directly to the leaves of the ground elder, being careful not to apply it to any other desirable plants or flowers you want to keep.

Applying vinegar on sunny and dry days and waiting for at least 24 hours to see the results is also recommended. Other methods to get rid of ground elders include:

  • Digging up the root system.
  • Use a homemade alternative such as salt or boiling water.
  • Using a chemical herbicide.

Will boiling water kill ground elder?

Boiling water can be an effective homemade remedy to help control ground elder. The boiling water damages and kills the plant’s leaves and stems on contact.

To use this method:

  • Boil a large pot of water.
  • Pour the boiling water directly over the visible ground elder leaves and stems.
  • Don’t splash boiling water on yourself or nearby plants you want to keep.
  • You may need to repeat applications on any regrowth.

The advantages of this approach are that it’s natural, chemical-free, and inexpensive. However, there are some drawbacks:

  • It only kills above-ground growth, not the roots and rhizomes underground.
  • You may need to frequently re-treat new growth.
  • It’s labor-intensive for large infestations.
  • There is a scalding risk when handling large volumes of boiling water.

For the best effect, use boiling water alongside other methods like digging to remove roots and prevent regrowth. It can provide good control of ground elder shoots emerging from underground remnants.

What is the easiest way to get rid of ground elder?

There is no truly easy fix for ground elder infestations. However, combining chemical and non-chemical control methods is usually more effective than a single approach. Here is an integrated plan of attack:

  • Spring: Spray ground elder with a glyphosate herbicide like Roundup at the start of the growing season. This will begin weakening the plant.
  • Summer: Repeatedly dig or hoe out roots and rhizomes. Solarize the soil using clear plastic to heat up and kill fragments.
  • Fall: Spray any remaining ground elder regrowth with herbicide.
  • Following season: Continue digging and hoeing. Mulch areas thickly to block light. Spot treat with herbicide if needed.
  • Subsequent years: Remain vigilant and persist with control. The extensive root system takes years to be thoroughly exhausted.

Repeated over time, this combination of chemical and mechanical control gives the best chance of overcoming ground elder. But patience and dedication will be required! There are no quick fixes when dealing with this stubborn weed.

How to get rid of ground elder naturally

For those wishing to remove ground elder without resorting to chemicals, here are some of the most effective natural control methods:

  • Smothering – Smother ground elder with opaque materials like black plastic, thick cardboard, carpet scraps, or layers of newspaper. Leave covered for 1-2 years.
  • Digging – Aggressively dig out the roots and rhizomes. Remove every piece – repeat every 2-3 weeks over the growing season.
  • Cutting – Cut any regrowth at the base before it can replenish roots. Cut frequently to exhaust the plant.
  • Mulching – Smother regrowth under mulch like wood chips, grass clippings, or garden compost at least 15cm thick.
  • Solarizing – Use clear plastic to heat the soil and kill ground elder remnants passively.
  • Saltwater – Boiling a concentrated salt water solution to pour on foliage can damage the plant but may affect the soil.

These natural methods require determination and persistence over time. But with diligence, the ground elder can eventually be suppressed without chemical assistance.

No dig ground elder

The “no dig” approach focuses on smothering and starving out ground elder roots without disturbing the soil through digging or hoeing. Here are some key no-dig techniques:

  • Sheet mulching – Smother the area by layering cardboard and newspaper topped with organic mulch like wood chips, compost, or grass clippings.
  • Cover cropping – Sow dense cover crops like buckwheat or ryegrass to shade out ground elder and deplete soil nutrients needed for growth.
  • Solarization – Cook ground elder roots by leaving clear plastic sheeting directly on the soil during hot weather.
  • Plant competition – Underplant ground elder with competitive shade tolerant plants like hostas or ferns, which will outcompete it.
  • Regular mowing/strimming – Repeatedly cut back top growth to weaken the roots and rhizomes underground.

The advantages of no-dig methods are reduced soil disturbance and improved soil health over time. The drawback is that smothering and weakening ground elder tends to be slower than actively removing every root fragment. But as part of an integrated plan, no dig techniques can help deplete this stubborn weed.

What kills ground elder?

Here are some of the most effective methods for killing ground elder and controlling infestations:

  • Glyphosate herbicide – Systemic herbicides containing glyphosate are absorbed by the leaves and kill the entire plant, including the roots and rhizomes. Products like Roundup are effective if used properly.
  • Digging – Aggressively digging out the roots can remove ground elder, but any remnants left behind will regrow. It must be thorough and repeated.
  • Smothering – Smothering the plant deprives it of light and air. Thick mulch, garden fabric, cardboard, and sheet plastics all work.
  • Saltwater – Boiling concentrated salt water solution and pouring over the foliage damages and kills upper growth.
  • Flame weeding – Using a propane torch to scorch leaves and stems provides control. Avoid burning and sterilizing the soil.
  • Solarization – Baking the soil under clear plastic sheeting kills roots and seeds during hot weather.

For best success, integrate multiple control methods. Killing ground elder requires dedication over successive seasons to fully eradicate it.

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