Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 07.07.08
Stanstead, Quebec


Dig that weed -- if you can

STANSTEAD, QC | Two summers ago I waged war on potato bugs. Though passionate and bloody, it was ultimately a losing battle, but I did find a solution, namely, stop growing potatoes.

This year, I've declared war against a new garden foe, one that, alas, I can't simply make disappear. The source of my woes is goutweed.

We've had a patch of goutweed at the corner of our property for the past few years but now it's spread into the vegetable garden at both ends. It's into the flowerbed beside the house. It's even starting to crowd out the oregano. I can see it eyeing the rampant mint patch and thinking, "Huh, you're not so tough."

You've probably seen goutweed, also known as ground elder, bishop's elder, goat weed, and "that damn weed." It's a three-leafed plant that at maturity shoots up white lacy flowers. If you pluck it, the stem simply breaks off, leaving the root behind, laughing haughtily.

These roots are called "rhizomes," which sounds like something they put in breakfast cereals but are in fact shallow runners that spread new plants. If you don't get every bit of rhizome out of the ground, a new plant will pop up. And because they're so brittle, it's virtually impossible to become a no-rhizome zone.

Some homeowners plant goutweed as a decorative ground cover. The fools.

For the rest of us, it's hard to say where it comes from, though states that goutweed "is a common pest of orchards, shrubberies, and ill-kept gardens." Well.

Through further research, I've learned much more about goutweed.

It's botanical name, for instance, is Aegopodium podagraria, which means "from this podium I declare my loathing: grrrrrr!"

Its large leaves are alternate, the lobes ovate and sharply-toothed, two to three inches long. Though non-fatal, when you mow it down, there's a certain satisfying crunch. states that monks introduced the plant in the Middle Ages as a cure for the gout. It was known as Herb Gerard because it was dedicated to St. Gerard, to whom one prayed to rid oneself of the gout. To rid one's garden of goutweed, one prayed to St. Ignatz, the patron saint of wrong-headed monks.

A casement in Champandelump Cathedral in Conundria, England bears the inscription, "Whosoever wast that wisely guy who herein sowed the infernal goteweed? Pay for it, thou wilst."

A common curse from 16th century Spain went as follows: "May your salads be nothing but goutweed and be served by a loose woman of Toledo with hairy arms and the breath of anchovies." Naturally, it sounds better in the original Spanish.

In 1873, the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud began when James McCoy accused neighbour Floyd Hatfield of letting goutweed creep over the property line into McCoy's okra patch. In parts of West Virginia it's still considered a terrible insult to call someone a "galldurned goutweed."

Goutweed tea: never a big hit.

Goutweed was introduced to North America only in the 1950s when communist operatives infiltrated American suburbs and attempted to break the spirit of capitalist bourgeois pigs by ruining their lawns.

One of the few instances of goutweed in literature is this poem by Ogden Nash:

    I think that I have never seed

    A more obnoxious garden weed.

    My mother hated bishop's elder.

    All that weeding nearly kelled her.

As part of its reconstruction plans, the U.S. is considering greening Iraq with goutweed, although it will be renamed "goodweed."

Among the methods of eliminating goutweed are Roundup and the targeted use of small thermonuclear devices. There are no non-chemical methods so don't even try.

Goutweed has been known to cause mental illness, the symptoms of which are obsessive behaviour, chronic lying, and newspaper columns.