Friday, April 8, 2011

LOOK FOR: Garlic Mustard, Invasive and Delicious

In the title to this post, I was tempted to call garlic mustard "evil." But I'll stop short of that. Every plant is just trying its best to take over the world.

Photo credit: Olivia and Mike
So you can't really blame garlic mustard, I guess, for the way it has evolved multiple seedpods that broadcast hundreds of seeds per plant, when they're ripe.

Nor for its allelopathic roots, which actually inhibit the growth of other plants growing nearby.

And really, how was it supposed to be responsible for bringing over its own pests from Europe to keep it in check? How was it to know American insects wouldn't eat it?

Turns out garlic mustard is getting really good at taking over. But I'm trying to adopt Patterson Clark's zen attitude: invasive weeds aren't evil...they are an untapped abundance.

This is one abundant plant you should learn to tap. Please, before it takes over the forest floor in all of our local parks.

Garlic Mustard (1st year)
First-year rosette by alumroot
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a biennial plant. In its first year, it hunkers down as a basal rosette of toothed, more or less heart-shaped leaves. The next spring, it starts going vertical, sending up a flowering stalk that can grow over 3 feet tall. The flowers are white, with four petals.

Do the flowers and seedpods remind you of the bittercress I wrote about a couple of weeks ago? They're in the same family, along with mustard greens, broccoli, and lots of other good-for-you vegetables.

GARLIC MUSTARD Alliaria petiolata
Photo credit: natural history man
Before yanking out garlic mustard, make sure you're not confusing it with golden ragwort, which is a lovely, and inedible, native flower. The leaves can be a similar shape, but only garlic mustard smells like garlic when you crush it. And, when they're flowering, they're totally different: golden ragwort has yellow flowers and powderpuffy seeds.

Going out on a garlic mustard pull with people who know what they're doing is one of the best ways to get to know this plant safely, and a great way to help maintain a local park. There are organized efforts throughout our area; check our calendar for invasive plant pulls. Montgomery County even holds an annual Garlic Mustard Challenge -- last year they pulled over 5 tons of garlic mustard from county parks.

And after you go on a garlic mustard pull, you should bring home some of the garlic mustard you pulled, and you should eat it. You can eat the leaves and stems raw or cooked. My favorite method is to substitute garlic mustard for the basil and the garlic in pesto. Or check out the recipes from the Patapsco Garlic Mustard Challenge: how about some garlic mustard ravioli to go with your pesto?

Want another way to tap this abundant resource? Check out this papermaking class.