Battling Bishop’s Weed May 11, 2005
by Lynne Bittner
.....I have been doing battle in my rather large flower garden with a weed that currently has the upper hand, and because of my busy schedule, I have neglected to properly care for my once beloved garden. This intruder must have come as a stowaway hiding in roots of some Bee Balm that I brought home from a local plant exchange about 12 years ago. I remember seeing its pretty white umbel shaped flower that summer mingling attractively amongst the shaggy dark pink blossoms of the Bee Balm, and being new to perennial flower gardening, I didn’t know that it would take over so aggressively that one day I would consider bulldozing the entire garden.
.....I searched the internet for any information regarding this weed, but because I didn’t know its name, I couldn’t get any advice as to how to deal with it. I kept describing it as looking like Snow-on-the -Mountain, without the variegated leaf, but met with no luck. When I finally described it to my gardening friend Colleen Mason (who takes care of the town gardens here in Greenwich) she exclaimed: “Oh, that’s Bishop’s Weed!”, followed by a groan. “It has roots that look like little white worms!” She generously offered her sympathy, and shared her own tale of woe. Apparently I was not off base with my bulldozer idea.
.....I discussed this problem with other gardeners. What was interesting was that every one had different names for it. For example: Sweet Cicely (“Can you learn to live with it? ” - Nancy Hand Higby, a local lndscape designer.), Gout Weed (“Yep, that’s Gout Weed. It’s all over the Berkshires.” - My sister Jaime, an expert professional gardener.).
.....Researching it, I learned it was introduced in to gardens in England during the Middle Ages by the Romans and used as a pot herb, then because of it’s vigor, escaped to the wild where it made itself at home on the edge of woodlands and in waste places. It seems to have had similar problems with identification because it was known by many names which included the following: Herb Gerard, (After St. Gerard who cured gout with it.) Bishop’s Wort, Bishop’s Elder, Dog Elder, Dwarf Elder, Ground Elder, Goat’s Foot, Goatweed, Farmer’s Plague, Garden Plague, Ground Ash, Pot-Ash, White Ash, Jack Jumpabout, English Masterwort, Wild Masterwort, Pigweed, Eltroot, Cummin Seed, Cummin Royal, Herb William. Bull-Wort.
.....It belongs to the Umbelliferae family, a large hardy herbaceous clan that shares the common characteristic of having an umbrella shaped flower. Relatives include: Queen Anne’s Lace, Angelica, Dill, Caraway, Fennel, Parsley, Chervil, Hemlock and Parsnip to name a few. Its scientific name Aegopodium is from Greek: aix: goat & podin: little foot. Podagraria is from Greek for gout. Historically it has also been used medicinally for bee stings, burns, wounds, etc., as well as treatment of gout.
Finally, I consulted The Herbal by John Gerard who made this comment in 1633:
.....Herbe Gerard groweth of it selfe in gardens without setting or sowing, and is so fruitful in his increase, that where it once hath taken root, it will be hardly got out againe, spoiling and getting every year more ground, to the annoying of better herbs.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so discouraged. After all, it has been a scourge in gardens that have gone on long before mine, and judging by this current situation, I’m sure Bishop’s Weed shall forever endure.
photos by R. Bittner
Bishop's Weed (Aegopodium podagraria)
Bishop's Weed Foliage
Weeding Bishop's Weed