GoutweedBotanical Name: Ægopodium podagraria (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Umbelliferae
Synonyms: Jack-jump-about. Goatweed. Herb Gerard. Ashweed. Achweed. English Masterwort. Wild Masterwort. Pigweed. Eltroot. Ground Elder. Bishop's Elder. Weyl Ash. White Ash. Bishopsweed. Bishopswort. Ground Ash.
Parts Used: Herb, root.
Habitat: Europe (except Spain) and Russian Asia. Not really indigenous to England.
Description: The generic name is a corruption of the Greek aix, aigos (a goat) and pous, podos (a foot), from some fancied resemblance in the shape of the leaves to the foot of a goat. The specific name is derived from the Latin word for gout, podagra, because it was at one time a specific for gout.
It is a stout, erect plant, coarse and glabrous, a perennial; in height, 1 1/2 to 2 feet, sometimes more, the stem round, furrowed and hollow. It has a creeping root-stock and by this means it spreads rapidly and soon establishes itself, smothering all vegetation less rampant than its own. It is a common pest of orchards, shrubberies and ill-kept gardens, and is found on the outskirts of almost every village or town, being indeed rarely absent from a building of some description. It is possible that Buckwheat might drive it out if planted where Goutweed has gained a hold.
It was called Bishopsweed and Bishopswort, because so frequently found near old ecclesiastical ruins. It is said to have been introduced by the monks of the Middle Ages, who cultivated it as a herb of healing. It was called Herb Gerard, because it was dedicated to St. Gerard, who was formerly invoked to cure the gout, against which the herb was chiefly employed.
Its large leaves are alternate, the lobes ovate and sharply-toothed, 2 to 3 inches long. The radical leaves are on long stalks, bi- and tri-ternate. There are fewer stem-leaves; they are less divided, with smaller segments.
The umbels of flowers are rather large, with numerous, small white flowers, which are in bloom from June to August and are followed by flattened seed-vessels which when ripe are detached and jerked to a distance by the wind, hence its local name, 'Jack-jump-about.' Gerard says: 'Herbe Gerard groweth of itself in gardens without setting or sowing and is so fruitful in its increase that when it hath once taken roote, it will hardly be gotten out againe, spoiling and getting every yeare more ground, to the annoying of better herbe.' An Alpine species, which appears to possess all the bad properties of its congener, is found in Asia. The plant is eaten by pigs, hence one of its names. The following charm is from an Anglo-Saxon Herbal: 'To preserve swine from sudden death take the worts lupin, bishopwort and others, drive the swine to the fold, hang the worts upon the four sides and upon the door' (Lacnunga, 82). John Parkinson recommends cummin seed and bishopsweed 'for those who like to look pale.'
The white root-stock is pungent and aromatic, but the flavour of the leaves is strong and disagreeable.
Culpepper gives 'Bishop-weed' a separate description, and states it is also called 'Æthiopian Cummin-Seed,' and 'Cummin-Royal,' also 'Herb William' and 'Bull-Wort.' He also (like Parkinson) says that 'being drank or outwardly applied, it abates an high colour, and makes pale.'
Linnaeus recommends the young leaves boiled and eaten as a green vegetable, as in Sweden and Switzerland, and it used also to be eaten as a spring salad.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Diuretic and sedative. Can be successfully employed internally for aches in the joints, gouty and sciatic pains, and externally as a fomentation for inflamed parts.
The roots and leaves boiled together, applied to the hip, and occasionally renewed,have a wonderful effect in some cases of sciatica. Culpepper says: 'It is not to be supposed Goutwort hath its name for nothing, but upon experiment to heal the gout and sciatica; as also joint-aches and other cold griefs. The very bearing of it about one eases the pains of the gout and defends him that bears it from the disease.' Gerard tells us that: 'with his roots stamped and laid upon members that are troubled or vexed with gout, swageth the paine, and taketh away the swelling and inflammation thereof, which occasioned the Germans to give it the name of Podagraria, because of his virtues in curing the gout.' Other Species: Bishopsweed is also the common name of Ammi majus.