Radical Fare Episode 5: Goutweed. Aggressive, Invasive And Delicious.
In parts of Australia and North America, goutweed has wreaked enough havoc on perennial flower gardens, organic farms and native biodiversity that it’s trade is legally controlled. Spreading on all sides from runners at the root, the weed loves shade and rain. It takes over quickly and all too often permanently, outcompeting even tree seedlings and near impossible to eradicate once established. A small piece of root in compost or from soil around a new plant brought in is all it takes to start a thriving goutweed colony.
A native to Eurasia, this exceptionally aggressive herb is believed to have been imported to Britan by the Romans in the 12th century as a food and medicinal crop. Referenced by medieval musical mystic Hildegard Von Bingham’s medical treatise Physica for its use to ease a sick stomach, it’s folk use in treating gout lent it’s most frequently used name , though Ground Elder and Bishops Weed are also used. Still found growing around medieval monasteries , it was indeed popular with Bishops in it’s day.
Now it’s everywhere. Possibly even your backyard. Short of extreme solutions such as flame weeding with a special blowtorch or resource heavy ones like removing all the soil from your pyard and refilling it with new ground, it’s there to stay. Goutweed is the bane of many gardeners existence,but some controversial plant philosophy is taking a very different turn with this and other invasive plants. Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits And Healing Abilities Of Invasives by T. L. Scott points out that invasives are at the very least far less harmful than toxic chemicals used to control them and examines potential for human benefit from the very plants we seek to destroy.
The leaves of goutweed are best eaten when the are young and glossy spring green. The older, drabber leaves are pungent and have a laxative effect. It’s used quite similarly to spinach and is great in soups, quiches, salads, dips, and spicier fare like a Saag or a hot curry. Tasting notes range from celery, mint and chlorophyll to cassis, citrus and coriander. As an easy growing food crop it has much better luster than ‘that damn weed that took over the garden’. No one is suggesting its introduction in places it has not already invaded, but a change of perspective on this seriously yummy plant in its existing habitat is called for.
Goutweed also makes a vibrant green dye for wool and cotton. In Anglo Saxon folklore it was hung, with lupin, around the four sides of a barn to ‘preserve the swine from sudden death’. It’s magical correspondences link it to Mars and Saturn, the element of water, rituals aimed at overthrowing established order through rapid, uncontrollable expansion and for invoking forest spirits. Not to mention that it’s high in potassium, vitamin C and iron. This garden thug, so enthusiastic, so full of life and vigor, should never be introduced but where it is already at home it can make a most excellent neighbour.