Garlic Mustard – EAT IT to BEAT IT!

Garlic mustard is an invasive species that is also delicious.
Garlic mustard is an invasive species that is also delicious.

By Fran Cohen
Garlic mustard is an edible plant that came to North America with settlers in the 19th century. It now grows so widely in eastern forests that it has become a threat to our native ephemeral spring flowers such as trillium, hepatica, Carolina spring beauty, trout lily, and columbine. One can spot garlic mustard growing along the side of many nature paths and sidewalks around the Shelburne area. And there is a good chance it is growing right in your backyard.

Garlic mustard spreads so easily because once it flowers, it can produce up to 8,000 seeds a single plant. If left unchecked, it crowds out native wildflowers, which may be lost forever. And with the loss of specific wildflowers comes the loss of native insect species that songbirds and salamanders feed on.

But garlic mustard is also delicious to eat, so harvesting can be a win-win situation for our culinary delight and for our sensitive native plants.

The best time to pull garlic mustard for eating is before it goes to seed, both in the spring and fall.

Garlic mustard is a biennial plant (a flowering plant that takes two years to complete its biological lifecycle). In its first year, it forms a ground-hugging rosette of green, kidney-shaped leaves with scalloped edges. In its second year it produces a tall stem with a cluster of white flowers at the end.

Make sure there’s no poison ivy growing along with the garlic mustard. Also, make sure that you have the right plant—the rough-toothed leaves and garlic odor when crushed are giveaways—then pull it up by the roots. Don’t scatter any seed as you bag up the whole plant. The roots will keep it fresh until you’re ready to cook. Cut off the leaves, and discard the stalk and roots in a sealed bag for disposal. Do not plant or compost, and wash the leaves before using.

Young plants, with their mild mustard-garlic flavor, can be used raw for pesto, in salads or as a streamed green. Cooked, the flavor’s even more subtle. Older leaves, fresh or dried, come through stronger, tending toward bitter, and are great in soups, marinades and dry rubs, especially with meat. It is best not to use the plant once it flowers as it will be more bitter.

According to Russ Cohen of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, “The most palatable parts of the garlic mustard plant, which do not require parboiling, are the tender portions of developing stems of second-year plants when they’re less than a foot tall and before the flower buds form. The stem is relatively mild and tender enough to be eaten raw,” Cohen wrote. He also said it “lends itself well to a quick stir-fry or a chopped-up ingredient in soups.” In Vermont, the plants are typically at this stage early May.

Please join us for the 3rd Annual Garlic Mustard Eradication Day at Shelburne Bay Park. Last year, with the support of the Shelburne Natural Resources and Conservation Committee, ten volunteers, including two Champlain Valley Union High School students, had a successful morning filling many bags.

Come help pull these invasive plants, save our native plant and animal life, meet your neighbors, green up the beautiful woods on Allen Hill, and bring some home to make delicious garlic mustard recipes.

When: Saturday morning May 14th from 9 to 11am (rain date May 15th same time)

Where: First parking lot next to the road at Shelburne Bay Park (not at the boat launch).

How: Volunteers only need to bring gardening gloves.  Wear sturdy shoes.

All other supplies will be provided.

Contact: Fran Cohen at 802-598-2511, or fdcohen17@gmail.com to RSVP or for more information (or just show up).

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