Can you eat garlic mustard

Gather Victoria

Words cannot say how much I love Garlic Mustard. Not just because of its velvety emerald coloured leaves, not because it is one the most versatile nutritious greens you can possibly eat, not because it is one of oldest food plants and possibly the oldest “spice”, and not because its green garlicky aroma fills me with salivatory delight.

Mostly I love it because my heart just goes out to its underdog status. Today Alliaria petiolata is vilified, hunted down and eradicated as an invasive weed – and almost no one remembers its many culinary virtues. Which is a shame because it makes such a prolific, nutritious, tasty food source. Archaeobotanical research demonstrates we’ve been enjoying its mustardy garlicky flavour since the Neolithic!

And this delicious bread dipping oil is a really easy way to enjoy its tender spring leaves. It’s perfect served with crusty rounds of a fresh sourdough baguette, is yummy dribbled over french fries, on a warm (or cold) potato salad, and mixed with cottage or ricotta cheese it rolls nicely into lasagna noodles for a super quick dinner.

Every part of the garlic mustard plant is edible, from roots, leaves, flowers to its young seed pods, and a 2007 study shows it provides a rainbow of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, chlorophyll, enzymes and fiber. As a Brassicaceae it also features the medicinal benefits of this family, i.e. helping to prevent oxidative stress, stimulate immune system, decrease the risk of cancers, and reduce proliferation of cancer cells.

Its British folk name of Jack-by-the-hedge and Jack-in-the-bush reflects that it was often found growing in and around the hedges and hedgerows of old Europe. Used as a pot herb in soups, stews, pottages, as a sauce for roasted meats and dried as a flavouring or spice, it was introduced to the new world by European settlers.

Garlic mustard continued to be eaten until just few decades ago when its prolific invasion into our forests began to raise concerns. Studies began to suggest that where garlic mustard spread – biodiversity dropped. Believed to outcompete indigenous species in the “understories” of forests, it began to be aggressively eliminated (often with herbicides) in order to protect native plants and their ecosystems.

Today more recent research is suggesting (and I fully realize how heretical it is to say this) that perhaps we’ve been a little shortsighted in our haste to dispatch this plant. In his book Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives Timothy Scott writes” contrary to the common verbiage that trumpets garlic mustards harm to surrounding life-forms, a study conducted by the department of biology at Boston University found that garlic mustard could actually provide a benefit to northeastern U.S. forests. Garlic mustard was found to leave soil “consistently and significantly higher in the soil nutrients that present conditions for optimal plant growth.” And he points to a wide variety of studies (like this one) which have found “little evidence that garlic mustard was negatively affecting plant species.”

Fears that garlic mustard overtakes and colonizes ecosystems is also being called into question. This study discovered that after a certain period, garlic mustard populations “begin to decline and reach a balance with native species that re-colonize invaded areas…This is consistent with other recent studies and indicates that, despite earlier claims to the contrary, A. petiolata seems to be more a product than an agent of change in eastern North American deciduous forests.”

Today governments (municipal, provincial and federal), the Invasive Plants Council of BC, The Coastal Invasive Species Committee The Nature Conservancy of Canada are all diligently at work removing Garlic Mustard.The Pacific Northwest Garlic Mustard Working Group, is a collaboration between Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska, and their list of recommended “controls” include a smorgasboard of herbicides including glypsophate (aka Round up).

But is it working? This study found that “understory species richness were lower in the herbicide and pull/herbicide treatments…treatment of garlic mustard with hand-pulling, herbicide, and/or scorching is ineffective in reducing garlic mustard abundance” and negatively impacts native understory species.

Of course these studies are far from conclusive, and it may be awhile before we get it all sorted out. But it seems to me that attempting to control what we believe are Mother Natures “mistakes” with repeated applications of herbicides threatens the long term well-being of our forests (and all the creatures that live there) far more than garlic mustard ever could. So I can’t help wonder if – rather than blitzing our green spaces with chemicals – we wouldn’t all be better off just eating garlic mustard? Maybe we could hold Garlic Mustard Festivals like these folks instead?

Check out this amazing sounding Sweet Pineapple and Garlic Mustard Salsa, which was the winning recipe from The Wilderness Centres Garlic Mustard Cook Off. Good news is, the sky may the limit when it comes to cooking with garlic mustard! You can use the leaves and flowers in salads, sauces, pesto, soups, pastas, savoury pies and tarts. The roots can be pickled, made into a horseradish like condiment or used as a root vegetable. The ground seeds make a fabulous mustard sauce (popular in France) and the dried greens can be made into a paste like wasabi.

And while it is often considered a bitter plant I find it less bitter than lets say, dandelion. I love to saute garlic mustards with olive oil, sea salt and lemon and serve as a green side dish, toss into mashed potatoes (see my Colcannon recipe) and to create nutrient rich spicy herbal vinegars and herbal salts, I’m still planning to try this intriguing recipe for roulade, made with the blanched and chopped leaves.

Garlic Mustard Roulade: The 3 Foragers

Garlic mustard is one of the first spring greens and here in Victoria I’m lucky to begin harvesting leaves in February! Garlic mustard is a biennial, and both first and second year plants spring leaves are basal with a wrinkly velvety leaf with a somewhat scalloped edge.

In the second year stalks shoot up, and the leaves along stems tend to become smaller and triangular in shape. These produce flower in spring, small cross-shaped four petalled white flowers in dense clusters. When blooming is complete, plants produce upright fruits that release seeds in mid-summer.

But finally to positively make sure you have garlic mustard – all you need do is crush the foliage and a clear unmistakable aroma of garlic will emerge. But if you don’t smell garlic, leave it alone, you may have a look-a-like. And of course, never eat anything that you’re not 110% sure of!

This dipping oil is one of my favourite ways to enjoy garlic mustard’s fresh spring flavour. It is delightfully easy to make and I’m sure once you try it you’ll understand why garlic mustard has been such a historically beloved plant! And maybe you’ll find yourself attending or even organizing a Garlic Mustard Festival soon!

Garlic Mustard & Olive Oil Bread Dip


  • 2 cup of leaves (and blossoms if available)
  • 1 cup of olive oil (and 3 extra tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. of sea salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese (or more if you’d like!)
  • 1 clove garlic (optional if you want it extra garlicky)


  • Place all your ingredients and half a cup of olive in a food processor. Whirr (blend) to a fine texture, then add another half cup of oil. Pulse till well mixed.
  • Pour into a large, clean jar. Pour over your three tablespoons of additional olive oil to seal off any air from getting into your mixture – keeping it fresher longer.
  • Store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Just remember you’ll need to let warm to room temperature first – otherwise it will be a bit waxy.

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I have enjoyed garlic mustard’s raw leaves in salads, but in my experience not all of its leaves are created equal. Often, those grown in shade are less bitter, and these are wonderful mixed with more traditional salad greens. My next choice for edibility would be the second-year, tender flowering shoots, which are at their best just about now.

It is hard to misidentify a plant this abundant, but if you are concerned, use a field guide. And for good measure, simply crush the leaves or stems; if they smell unmistakably of garlic, you have the right one.

One word of caution: Garlic mustard contains traces of cyanide, which is most likely the plants’ defense mechanism against becoming a meal. But before giving up on the prospect of a few leaves in your salad, consider that most mustard relatives — broccoli, cabbage, kale — also contain traces of this toxin. And in any case, most people have no problem limiting their wild mustard collecting to once or twice a month. Consider, too, that cyanide is water soluble, so blanching or boiling the leaves before their consumption reduces its level measurably.

Though garlic mustard is widespread in its native Europe, its natural predators make sure it is never very abundant. In North America, however, humans are quite alone in our taste for this invader, so dig in. Remove the whole root when you do and be a glutton. Your local woodland wildflowers will thank you for it.

Garlic Mustard: A Delicious Invasive

The most delicious part of the garlic mustard plant is the young stem. Sweet, succulent, and garlicy, it reminds me of a cross between a garlic scape and a snap pea. These can be steamed or sauted and drizzled with olive oil or butter. However, my favorite way to eat them is raw! Just chop them up and add to soups, salads, tacos, stir fries, and other dishes. It’s easy and delicious!

The leaves and flower buds are more bitter in flavor than the stem. The leaves taste like a cross of bitter mustard greens and garlic. The flower buds have a spicy horseradish-like flavor. Though the bitterness puts some people off, I think the flavor goes well in many dishes. Garlic mustard pesto is a classic. You can just take your favorite traditional pesto recipe and replace the basil with garlic mustard leaves and flower buds. (Or if the flower buds are too spicy for you, simply omit them.)

Personally, I love garlic mustard hummus. My method of making hummus is to blend a couple cups of cooked chickpeas together with some tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil in my food processor. Then I taste it, decide if I want a stronger tahini or lemon flavor, and adjust accordingly. If it’s too thick, I add more olive oil. When it’s about right, I add salt, chopped garlic, and spices until it’s close to the flavor I want. Then, with the processor running, I add as many garlic mustard leaves and flower buds as it can hold, which is a surprisingly large amount! I periodically stop the motor to scrape the sides and taste a bit. When it’s a good color, flavor, and consistency, it’s done! This hummus has a wonderful kick that goes especially well on sandwiches and with chips or crackers. If you’re looking for something less fiery, simply omit the flower buds.

For people who don’t approve of my imprecise methods, here is a hummus recipe from The Three Foragers. It calls for ramps, but that can be substituted with two cloves garlic.

Final Thoughts

So what to make of garlic mustard? Healthful herb or noxious weed? I’d say it’s both. As someone who has spent countless hours pulling this plant up by the roots in an effort to protect delicate forest ecosystems, I know from experience the extent to which garlic mustard can displace native wildflowers. However, as someone who has spent several years eating it, I also know how delicious it can be, and look forward to cooking with it every spring. I’m curious if we can combine the weed management aspect with the culinary aspect in an effective way. I have personally held workshops where we pulled large quantities of the plant for management purposes and used a portion of it for cooking; and I have seen similar programs promoted by parks, nature centers, and environmental organizations across the country. (If you’re interested in controlling the spread of garlic mustard, please contact your local nature center so they can teach you the proper techniques.) I hope to see a day where garlic mustard is no longer a threat to our native woodlands due to large numbers of people pulling and eating it. Until then, I’ll do my part!

Garlic Mustard: A Gold Mine of Food and Medicine

Not all invasive plants are necessary to get rid of. Garlic Mustard has been consumed for hundreds of years and has great nutritional value. Almost the entire plant can be used to promote a healthy body-leaves, seeds, and roots! Also, the garlic-flavor is a perfect addition to any recipe that calls for mustard.

The following are excerpts from Beyond the War on Invasive Species by Tao Orion and The Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair. They have been adapted for the web.

Classification: Alliaria petiolata

Geographic location: Northeast, Midwest, Southeastern Canada

Description: Garlic mustard is a herbaceous biennial plant growing from a thin, white taproot. In the first year, plants appear as a rosette of green leaves close to the ground and develop into mature flowering plants the following spring. Second year plants range from 30–100 cm in height. The leaves are stalked, triangular to heart-shaped, and have a coarsely toothed margin. The flowers come in button-like clusters and each has four white petals arranged in a cross.

Peeling Back the Layers of Garlic Mustard’s Ecological Story

Garlic Mustard is from the family Brassicaceae, a botanical family with many members renowned for their vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant profiles. Garlic mustard is considered a choice edible plant in Europe where it is native. Many types of pollinators visit garlic mustard’s flowers, and though it is vilified as an invasive species in the northeastern US, its presence, like all other invasive species, tells an important ecological story.

Prior to the arrival of European immigrants, indigenous people that lived in the eastern United States cultivated edible and medicinal plants like elderberries, goldenseal, and ginseng in the understories of open canopied hardwood trees including sugar maple, shagbark hickory, and black walnut. Stands of these and other plants were managed with fire, as well as cultivation through digging, seed-saving, and vegetative propagation. Directing and managing ecosystem succession with perennial polycultures was (and is still in some places) a feature of many indigenous societies that have historically been labeled ‘hunter-gatherers.’

From the Amazon rainforest to the deserts, savannahs and jungles of Indonesia, Africa, Australia, and Central America, to the prairies and hardwood forests in North America, people were cultivating crops, and though it looked much different from the European and continental Asian version of agriculture, these practices structured and modified ecosystems in important ways.

Those species that are now known as native in the Americas and elsewhere are relics of historic forest gardens. The wilderness ideology of leaving nature alone (in certain places) that permeates the philosophy of American land use means that many ecosystems now lack the type of management that made them so historically diverse and abundant. Lack of consistent cultivation and management of native species means that there are ecological niches available for invasion, as the process of succession is inevitable, and succession is all about invasion – whether the species coming in are native or not.

Garlic mustard confounds many land managers because it invades what are considered ‘pristine’ forests that haven’t been logged or otherwise cleared. It appears to displace native vegetation with its prolific growth.

However, what’s really going on in this case is a lack of cultivation of those native species. Ginseng and goldenseal require not just judicious harvesting, but propagation and tending to thrive. Elderberries need adequate light to set prolific fruit, and hickories and walnuts are more productive when they have space for their lateral branches to grow unobstructed.

One of the best ways to manage garlic mustard and similar species? Focus on providing optimum conditions for the native understory plants.

In the process of doing this, you can obtain a yield of garlic mustard, which is quite tasty and nutritious. With consistent harvests over the course of several years, the garlic mustard will be less vigorous, and hopefully the understory and other species you focus on cultivating will begin to thrive again. This will ensure that the ecological functions that garlic mustard currently serves (pollinator forage, vigorous soil-conserving understory) will be maintained as the ecosystem shifts toward a more diverse species profile. And perhaps you will find that you prefer to keep some garlic mustard as a well-managed part of your now thriving perennial edible forest garden. Garlic mustard sauerkraut anyone?

Garlic Mustard: A Gold Mine of Food and Medicine

Garlic mustard, growing as a ground cover in many places in the country, is a gold mine of food and medicine. We are blessed when a plant such as the garlic mustard shows up in abundance. Some might feel threatened by its prolific growth and fear that it may be out of control, but we might also choose to relax and trust in nature and the natural succession that has been happening in wild places across the globe over millennia.

All mustards are edible, and garlic mustard has a special pungent garlic-like flavor, perfect for adding to a host of recipes. All parts of the mustard plant have a valuable quality that helps stimulates circulation of the blood. And when our body has a good exchange and movement of fluids there is a heightened communication between our organs, tissues and cellular matrix. This activity promotes optimal health through greater efficiency of regenerating tissues and effective elimination of wastes.

Mustard leaves can be added to green juices for an added zest in flavor. When collected, dried and mixed with salt, the greens are great for seasoning dishes. The nutrient dense seasoning powder not only tastes delicious but provides our body a rainbow of minerals that are not readily found in conventionally grown foods. Garlic mustard greens are high in Vitamin A and Vitamin C as well as trace minerals, chlorophyll and enzymes. The roots taste like horseradish and can be pickled or used in soups as a root vegetable. The seeds when ground make a fabulous mustard sauce and the dried greens can be made into a paste like wasabi.

When we bring the wild greens, roots, flowers and seeds into our daily diets through salads, soups, juices and seasoning, we benefit from a greater integrity of health and well being. There is a core integrity that comes from wild harvesting our foods from the wild places on earth. Garlic mustard is out there growing in nature’s garden. We didn’t plant it, nor weed it, nor even water it. All we have to do is ask permission, take what we need and say thank you.

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Garlic Mustard: The Super-Nutritious Edible ‘Weed’ You Probably Mow Over

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Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a member of the mustard family and has a noticeable garlic aroma — hence its name. In Europe, this plant is loved and used by many rural people, but in North America it is often referred to as a noxious weed. In fact, if you do a search on the Internet you will find a noxious weed alert for almost every state and province.

Those that know the weed well will tell you that the only reason this plant is deemed intolerable is because we are overrun with it from not using it. If only we ate more of it, we likely would feel differently.

How it spreads

Garlic mustard, like other weeds, spreads by seeds that fall just a few feet from each plant. With the help of animals and humans, it gets transported. The first year the plant is small with inconspicuous leaves that blend well with other native plants. They look like violet leaves or wild ginger leaves.

In the second year, a flower stalk shoots up and thousands of seeds are scattered. This aggressive plant soon takes over as its roots exude chemicals that keep other nearby native plants from germinating. This is a problem for areas that contain native plants, as the mustard will soon take over and will eventually ruin the natural diversity of an area. This is why natural foraging is so important, because it helps control the spread.

Beneficial properties

Garlic mustard is good for you, hands down. It is one of the most nutritious leafy greens. There are few other greens that are higher in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, zinc and vitamin E. In addition, garlic mustard beats spinach, collards, turnips, kale, broccoli and domesticated mustard for all nutrients and is high in omega-3 fatty acids, manganese and iron.


One of the best ways to identify garlic mustard is by its unique underground stem that curves twice as it leads to the root. The first curve is just below the leaves, bending the stem almost on a right angle. The second curve is less acute and further down where it looks like the true root begins. Young leaves can be difficult to spot because they can be rounded, kidney-shaped or even arrow-shaped, depending on the age of the plant. Because of this, foraging novices may be best to look for the unique stem and pungent garlic aroma (crush the leaves and smell).

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Once the stem gets large enough, it is easy to spot the changes in leaf shape. The leaves closest to the ground are rounded or kidney-shaped and they become progressively more triangular in shape as they move toward the top of the plant. Flowers appear on the top of the stem in clusters. Each flower has four white petals and a six-stamen set-up that includes four long and two short.


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Larger-rooted, second-year plants are best because they produce more food for the effort. Leaves begin to multiply when temperatures range from the mid-50s during the day to the mid-30s at night. This is usually around the same time that daffodils are blooming.

When you are harvesting in a natural area that you are trying to preserve, it is important to take the whole plant. Use a digging stick or a pick-shovel to uproot the mustard — roots and all. Keep roots with some dirt separate from the leaves if possible. The best way to achieve this is to place the plants in a container with roots down. The best time to harvest is usually after a light rain, as more dirt will stick to the roots.

If you are harvesting in an area that is not already overrun with mustard, you don’t have to be concerned about taking the whole plant. Use sharp and clean scissors to cut the leaves. Gather all of the leaves and cut the cluster at one time. Place the leaves in a clean plastic bag and spray a bit of water inside before tying shut. Harvesting this way leaves the roots intact and you can return to the same spot to harvest over and over as needed. Be careful not to let the plant go to seed if you do not want it to spread.

Be very careful about tossing unwanted roots into your compost bin — they can often regrow and will spread seeds. If you wish to compost them you can cook them first in the microwave; this will kill the seeds. On the other hand, if you wish to have more plants, simply throw out roots in the desired area, rake them a bit underground and water. Soon you will have mustard plants springing up.

Using mustard

Leaves: It is best to keep the leaves in water and to use them right away. You also can place them in your fridge where they will keep for up to 10 days. When you are ready to use, simply remove the leaf stems. Because it has a bit of a bitter taste, it is best to chop leaves up into smaller pieces before using.

Stems: If desired, you can use the upper stems – usually about four inches. Find the place where the stem still snaps cleanly and remove about an inch more. What remains should be good to eat.

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Roots: The roots are edible but need to be fairly large. The core can be woody or crunchy and the outer rind will be mildly sweet. First-year roots are more tender than second-year and both have a slightly peppery taste.

Flowers and buds: You can use these like you would the leaves. They add interest and texture to any dish.

Seeds: Some people use seeds for condiments or spices.

Eating garlic mustard

Garlic mustard is not one of those plants that most of us will bite into and eat freely. It is strong and fairly bitter and therefore better in small bits. Garlic mustard connoisseurs delight in its bitter, garlic and peppery taste that seems to commingle well together.

Garlic mustard is an enjoyable addition to any salad when it is chopped in fine shreds. You also can go ahead and throw in some of the flower heads and buds for good measure. Some recommend pairing garlic mustard with meat dishes and meat sandwiches, as well as bean dishes, eggs and soups. The key is to start with a little and add more as you desire.

If you wish to eat the leaves as greens, you can place them in a pot of boiling water for about six minutes and then eat like you would spinach. Add a little lemon juice and salt for a delicious side dish. You also can steam and sauté the leaves and stems for about 10 minutes.

If you are interested in preserving natural areas, learn how to forage for garlic mustard. You will have an abundant supply of nutritious greens and be making a great conservation effort in the meantime.

Do you eat garlic mustard? Share your foraging and cooking tips in the section below:

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To me, Garlic Mustard Weed isn’t a weed, its a salad green, right alongside Mesclun. Maybe because it is so ubiquitous in my area people call it a weed. I call it free food.

Garlic mustard weed identification is pretty easy, not many plants look like this. These photos are of a the mustard in its second year of growth. The first year it is a low growing green, with what I call a rosette of small green leaves. In its second year, it shoots up with larger leaves and flowers.

Photo by Srtg CC 3.0 Wikimedia

Is Garlic Mustard Weed Edible?

According to Wikipedia, Garlic Mustard was “one of the oldest discovered spices to be used in cooking in Europe”. You can use the leaves and flowers in salads. I make a really nice pesto with the leaves, watch my video here. In France the seeds are used to season food. So yes, garlic mustard is edible.

This weekend I saw some growing along a stone wall near the house so I pulled over and took these photos, then pulled up the plants by their roots. Free food! In a few minutes you have a sharp tasting mustard green for your salads, soups, and pesto. How cool is that?

I pull the leaves off the stems and save the flowers whole to drop on top of the salad. This green works well with a balsamic vinegar salad dressing, as it has a pretty strong flavor. Add in avocado to balance it out. That ying-yang thing applied to foraged and farmed foods. The irony of that being you pulled the greens from the side of the road and the avocado had to be trucked a long way to your kitchen.

To harvest this wild mustard, bring along a trowel or small shovel, and grab the plant by its base and pull out the whole plant, root and all. Don’t feel guilty pulling this out of the ground. In the U.S. this is an invasive plant that is bad for our local trees and fields. It emits chemicals that make the soil hospitable to its growing and everything else dying, basically.

Garlic mustard produces allelochemicals, mainly in the form of the compounds allyl isothiocyanate and benzyl isothiocyanate, which suppress mycorrhizal fungi that most plants, including native forest trees, require for optimum growth. However, allelochemicals produced by garlic mustard do not affect mycorrhizal fungi from garlic mustard’s native range, indicating that this “novel weapon” in the invaded range explains garlic mustard’s success in North America. Additionally, because white-tailed deer rarely feed on garlic mustard, large deer populations may help to increase its population densities by consuming competing native plants. Trampling by browsing deer encourages additional seed growth by disturbing the soil. Seeds contained in the soil can germinate up to five years after being produced (and possibly more). The persistence of the seed bank and suppression of mycorrhizal fungi both complicate restoration of invaded areas because long-term removal is required to deplete the seed bank and allow recovery of mycorrhizae. Wikipedia

In other words, this plant is not good for your local area, so pull it out by the taproot and enjoy it in your salads.

Scientific name: Alliaria petiolata
Common name: Garlic Mustard

(Information in this Species Page was compiled in part by Andrea Boysel as part of the course requirements for Biology 220M in Spring 2001 at Penn State new Kensington)

Garlic mustard is a conspicuous understory plant often found in incredible abundance in the shaded floor of moist deciduous forests. It is also frequently found near disturbed areas like trails, hedgerows, shaded roadsides, and forest edges. Garlic mustard is not a native plant of North America. Its natural range is throughout Europe (“from Italy to Sweden and England to Russia”) where it is an integrated component of natural forest flora. It was carried, probably inadvertently, to North America as seeds on boots or in the soil of intentionally transplanted plants. The first recorded observation of garlic mustard in the United States was on Long Island, New York in 1868. Since 1868 garlic mustard has spread to thirty U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. In North American ecosystems garlic mustard grows and spreads rapidly and invasively, an uncontrolled “weed”, choking out native plant species and negatively impacting the herbivores that depend upon them for food.

Mature garlic mustard plants stand one to three feet tall with alternate, heart-shaped, toothed leaves that are three to eight centimeters in diameter (leaves get smaller as you go up the plant stem). In spring and early summer flower stalks form on which there are small (1/4 to 1/3 inches wide), white flowers with four petals arranged in a cross shape pattern, each bearing six stamens (four long and 2 short). The leaves smell strongly of garlic when crushed. These mature, flowering plants represent the second year’s growth of this biennial species.

The flowers of garlic mustard are either pollinated quite non-specifically by a variety of insects (solitary bees, a variety of flies, and on rare occasions, honeybees or bumblebees) or they can self-pollinate if these insect interactions do not occur. The seeds of the pollinated plants have been shown to be more vigorous than those produced by the self-pollinated plants. The ability to self-pollinate, though, does confer a great advantage on the survivability of an invading population founded by a single, established individual. Garlic mustard also has a slender, white taproot from which adventitious buds that can form flower stalks can arise. This root budding ability further adds to the difficulty of population control of these invasive plants.

A pollinated flower produces a fruit that is linear, 2.5 to 6.0 cm long and about 2 mm wide. A single plant can produce two to over four hundred fruits (with an average of twenty-two per plant). The fruits ripen between mid-June and September. Each fruit contains approximately sixteen seeds. A single plant, then, is capable of producing up to 8000 seeds in a single season! Seeds are contained in tan seedpods that are capable of ejecting the ripened seeds several feet away from the stem of the plant. Seeds must lay dormant for at least one year before germinating in the spring. Cold stratification is required to trigger seed germination. The seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to five years (a factor that further complicates the removal of an established garlic mustard population). Seeds can be transported great distances on boots of hikers or even on the tires of vehicles.

Seedlings emerge from February to early March and form basal rosettes by the middle of summer. These first-year rosettes are dark green with kidney shaped basal leaves and are very sensitive to drought. Sixty to ninety percent of these first year individuals fail to survive this first summer season. The surviving plants remain green over the winter and then grow very rapidly into the mature, second year form early in the next spring (typically early March) prior to the leafing of the over-story deciduous trees. The ability of garlic mustard to over-winter in a green (chlorophyll rich) form and to survive and grow in the near freezing temperatures of late fall and early spring enables it to take over a system’s habitat space and growth resources before the less cold-tolerant plant species can become established.

Ecological Impact
Garlic mustard is a threat to the forest ecosystems of the midwestern and eastern United States. It is able to form monospecific stands that dominate the understory of even relatively undisturbed forests and actively displace native understory plant species. Once garlic mustard is established in an area it is almost impossible (because of characteristics discussed above) to be eliminated. As a permanent component of a site’s flora, it increases its presence every year and grows out of control until it completely dominates the site. Tree seedlings (especially oaks) and many wildflowers (including spring beauty, trout lily, wild ginger, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, hepatica, toothwort, and trillium) cannot survive the explosive growth and spread of garlic mustard. In addition, invertebrates and other consumers that rely on these natural plant species for food are harmed by the spread of this invasive “weed”. Garlic mustard also produces root exudates that inhibit the growth of important soil fungi and leaf chemicals that kill native butterfly larvae that feed on the plant.
Garlic mustard is edible and is used in its native range for a great variety of dietary and medicinal purposes. It is rich in vitamins A and C and makes a spicy addition to salads, sandwiches, or cooked dishes. Its crushingly negative impact, though, on native plants and native forest ecosystems renders these very minimal uses quite trivial and unimportant.

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Garlic mustard is an invasive plant that, thankfully, is edible and extremely healthful, and can be used in a variety of dishes. My favorite use for it, however, is a delicious pesto sauce. In fact, garlic mustard pesto is easily one of my top three favorite foraging recipes that I’ve ever tried! Just as with basil pesto, this is a sauce that goes deliciously with pasta, chicken, rice, or anything else you’d use a basil pesto for. Each cup will save you a lot of money if you find yourself buying gourmet pasta sauces when at the grocery store.

As the name implies, garlic mustard leaves have a strong, oniony flavor. Its roots taste more like horseradish. Both the leaves and some of the roots are used in this pesto recipe, and all parts of the plant are edible.

The plant grows and spreads very fast, so once you find a patch of it, you’ll be hard-pressed to use all the garlic mustard that is available to you. This recipe, however, provides an extremely simple and easy way to use a ton of garlic mustard in a delicious way. The pesto also freezes well, so it can be made in bulk and stored for later.

As for the ingredients, other than the garlic mustard, the rest will end up being the same as any other pesto. We’ll start with how to identify wild garlic mustard, and then dive into the recipe!

Identifying Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Identifying garlic mustard is easy, although it looks rather different during different stages of growth. When flowering it can be up to three feet tall, and develops small flowers with white petals on the tips of its long stalk.

Garlic Mustard First Year

Leaves are alternating and are heart to kidney-shaped, with scalloped edges. First-year plants grow in rosettes close to the ground, while second-year plants shoot up vertically, launching long and skinny stalks that can reach up to waist-height. Second-year plants tend to have pointier leaves as well.

Leaves on second-year plants are generally less bitter than leaves from first-year rosettes—however, that bit of extra bitterness works very well in pesto, so you don’t have to worry about only harvesting the first-year plants. In fact, I used exclusively first-year plants for the delicious pesto you see being made in this article.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) Second Year

For an easy test to confirm that you have found garlic mustard, crush some up between your fingers and give it a sniff. If it smells like onions or garlic, you have garlic mustard. There are no real poisonous lookalikes to speak of though some plants, like wild ginger, can appear similar if you aren’t super-familiar with the details yet.

Once this plant takes over an area, you might not see any other plants at all…just a field of garlic mustard between the trees. It’s actually an invasive species, and invasive plants like garlic mustard destroy the ability of native plants to thrive.

The good news is, being an invasive means that you can harvest as much of it as you want, with no risk at all of over-harvesting. In fact, by eradicating it completely, you’ll be doing all the plants and other creatures in your local ecosystem a big favor. So, while doing your part to remove invasive plants, why not make a killer pesto and throw a springtime dinner party while you’re at it?

(Alliaria petiolata)

Once you’ve harvested your garlic mustard, wash the leaves and roots thoroughly and pat them dry. The following is a complete list of the minimal ingredients you’ll need for garlic mustard pesto but you can add other spices or ingredients as well. If you experiment it may be good to add ingredients to a small amount of the prepared pesto recipe shown below and write down what you did for future reference.

  • 3 cups garlic mustard leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic mustard root
  • 2 large peeled, minced garlic cloves (for a truer forager’s pesto, use wild garlic, tripling or even quadrupling the amount and adding a few chopped leaves to compensate for the less strong flavor compared to store-bought garlic) Minced dried garlic could be used as well but fresh is always best. If you use dried minced garlic, allow the pesto a little time to set before consuming. This will help soften it up a bit.
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Additional Romano cheese to taste
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup pine nuts (some use walnuts, which are less pricey, but I prefer the flavor of pine nuts)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

And now for the extremely simple process of making your pesto:

All you need is a food processor – a blender would probably work, but a food processor will work better, and is a great investment to enhance your kitchen toolkit regardless. A mortar and pestle could be used in a pinch for making small amounts. If you use a mortar and pestle you may just want to blend the cheese into the mix in a seperate bowl.

Simply add all dry ingredients except for the cheese into your food processor and blend, slowly adding olive oil as you process the dry components and you start getting the consistency you want.

Process the ingredients until all the oil is completely poured in and you have a thick, smooth pesto sauce. Note that the suggested proportion of olive oil is my suggestion. Some people like a thicker or thinner pesto sauce, but I like mine a little bit on the thicker end. If you don’t have olive oil you can substitute sunflower oil or grapeseed oil but olive oil is definitely my first choice. Finally, salt and pepper to taste. Then use or freeze as quickly as possible so it stays fresh!

There are many modifications and experimentations you can do once you’re comfortable with the basic recipe. For example, if you like, you can try reducing the amount of garlic mustard you use, and replace some of it with traditional basil.

Another modification some folks enjoy is adding a couple of pinches of parsley to the mix. For me, the simpler recipe above is hard to improve upon, but it’s always fun to experiment with different proportions and flavors.

For another example, the well-known northeastern forager known as “Wildman” Steve Brill incorporates ½ cup of mild miso and some other additions into his garlic mustard pesto recipe.

Garlic mustard pesto puts a quick nail in the coffin of the misconception that foraged plants are difficult to incorporate into delicious recipes. In addition to helping reduce the numbers of a highly invasive non-native plant, this is a recipe that will genuinely wow your friends and family with its rich deliciousness regardless of how you use it. Give it a try!

Let us know in the comments below what adaptations you have tried in this recipe. There are other cheeses that could be added. Just make sure it is a drier white cheese for best results.

Substituting a cup of garlic mustard with spinach would make a great fresh pesto. Add in a few cherry tomatoes and your favorite pasta for a delicious meal that tastes great hot or cold. Pesto is particularly good with penne pasta.

For an interesting twist on pizza, use a little garlic mustard pesto on white sauce and chicken pizzas.

Do you know of any other invasive plants that make a great pesto?

Author Bio: Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!

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