Dealing With Ground Elder in an Organic Garden

Ground elder

Ground elder is often considered to be one of the most pernicious of weeds. It is a problem for gardeners, since it can regrow from even the smallest of root sections and will self-seed prolifically too if allowed to go to seed. A bit of a thug, ground elder will quickly take over an area of allowed to do so. But is it really as much of a problem as most people imagine? Dealing with ground elder in an organic garden is often more about learning to live with it and keeping it within bounds, rather than trying to eradicate it entirely.

The Benefits of Ground Elder

Ground elder is probably not a good plant to introduce deliberately to your garden (though there are less troublesome cultivated varieties that you can buy). That said, if you already have it, you should look on the bright side. Ground elder can actually have a number of benefits.

Ground elder flowersWhen it grows around established trees and shrubs, or sturdy bulbs like lilies, it will not out-compete those plants and can in fact be beneficial as a ground cover plant – helping to protect the soil and keep moisture in it. When allowed to flower, ground elder will also attract bees and other pollinators to your garden. The white, airy flowers are not unattractive.

Ground elder in saladAnother surprising benefit of ground elder is that you can actually eat it. While the raw leaves are something of an acquired taste, and not to everyone's liking, when sautéed in a little olive oil, the young stems and leaves have a slight celery flavour that is mild and rather tasty. You can use ground elder along with other greens wherever you might ordinarily use spinach. The plant also has applications in herbal medicine. Chickens and other garden livestock can also eat the ground elder.

How To Keep Ground Elder in Check

Eating the ground elder as it emerges in the spring is a good way to keep it in check. When the new growth is repeatedly harvested, the plant will be less vigorous come summer and will not spread as much or as widely. Allowing chickens free reign over an area with lots of ground elder will definitely help to keep it down. They seem to love it and though it will keep coming back, they will keep it down enough that it won't end up going to seed.

You can also slow down ground elder (though not usually stop it entirely) by mulching the area thickly with a dense layer of organic matter. A heavy, light-excluding mulch will not eradicate the plant but, again, can help make it less vigorous.

In an organic garden, ground elder can be a problem. But having ground elder in your garden can also be seen as a positive.