Welcome to our summer series on wild edibles! Each week we will introduce you to a wild-grown edible plant and talk about the importance of proper identification, sustainability and etiquette when bringing wild-harvested plants to your table.
I hope you’ve heard of garlic mustard before, but if not here’s the low down.
- Garlic mustard was first introduced as a garden herb but escaped and has been causing problems ever since. It is an herbaceous plant that takes two years to reach maturity.
- Garlic mustard is allelopathic, meaning it produces chemicals that reduce the growth of neighboring plants, so when garlic mustard gets introduced into a site it can quickly outcompete native understory vegetation. Unfortunately, it can thrive in fully intact forests.
- It’s also a prolific seed producer. Each 2-4 feet tall, second-year plant can produce up to 100 seeds and those seeds remain viable for up to 7 years.
So, what do food and community have to do with garlic mustard? Remember when I mentioned that it was introduced as a garden herb? You guessed it—it’s edible and makes great pesto and soup. I’ve recently started sharing the pulled plants (roots intact) with others. I gave a bag to a new neighbor and a few days later a container of garlic mustard curry appeared on my porch—yum!
Eating (and managing) an invasive species while creating community
I can think of no better way to manage garlic mustard than to plan a culinary-focused event! The best time to hold a culinary garlic mustard removal event is typically in early May before garlic mustard flowers.
Identify garlic mustard on your land or in your community. This can be done all year round. Here’s our garlic mustard webpage.
Gather friends and family or enjoy some quiet time in the woods by yourself and go pull garlic mustard. Be sure to pull up the whole root. There’s often a “J” hook in the root so pulling plants is best done with care, especially when the soil is soft from rain, to get the whole “J” hook. If part of the root remains the plant will likely regrow (much like dandelions).
Bag the whole plant. You only need the leaves for food, but leaving the roots touching the soil may cause them to reroot and grow again. Ideally, you want to get all the plants, but if that’s not possible, take what you need and plan additional management activities.
After pulling and bagging the plants, divide up the plants so everyone can use the leaves. (NOTE: Garlic mustard is on the Minnesota Noxious Weed List so transporting seeds or selling the plants is illegal. Everyone must be careful to prevent its spread.)
Have a garlic mustard picnic potluck! Check out the many garlic mustard recipes in From Pest to Pesto: Garlic Mustard Eat it to Beat it. A little more Google searching will yield many more recipes for soup, pesto, curry, or as a fresh herb. It’s great on sandwiches when fresh, and you can also freeze soup and pesto for later.
Continue garlic mustard management. One culinary event is very unlikely to manage your garlic mustard problem. Like most invasive species management, this is likely to be a long-term project that requires several different control methods over several years. Hopefully, your group is willing to help you manage the garlic mustard for the long term!
CAUTION: Gathering of wild products should be done safely and legally. Never harvest products on roadsides or other locations where pesticides may be used.
Be certain you have permission before harvesting wild products. Many products can be harvested on publics lands but require a permit or specific use; make sure you are familiar with the policies for the products you harvest. Always respect private property.
University of Minnesota Extension has several resources to help you think about long-term invasive species and garlic mustard management, including a great publication on how to prioritize species and how to organize a removal event.