Can’t Beat’em, Eat’em: Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Photo by ...
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This morning, after the soaking rain overnight, I’ll don the heavy-duty rubber gardening gloves and work in vain on the bank of the branch just out the back door and beside the big lilac bush to clear away the garlic mustard, a European invasive, Allaria petiolata, an over-wintering biennial first introduced in North America as a potherb in colonial times.

I pulled off lots of tops last year, not realizing the plant has a defense against that: a deep taproot from which this year’s plants have returned almost one for one from the places they grew last year. As if their garlic smell was not enough deterrent against potential insect and vertebrate predators and their incredible seed production did not insure the spread of this increasingly ubiquitous invasive that tolerates both sun and shade equally well.

But…as Euell Gibbons told us about hickory nuts…many parts are edible. Here’s the Garlic Mustard Pesto recipe.

This IS a mustard, after all, family Brassicaceae (or the old terminology I learned, Cruciferae) so is in good company along with cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and watercress, among others.

It seems the degree of bitterness of the leaves from late fall to early spring varies according to the genetics of taste. The pesto kept in the refrigerator for a few days is said to lose a bit of its edginess, if that bothers you. Oh, the flowers are edible, too.

Watch the video, be sure you recognize it, then weed it. Or eat it. Bon appetit!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I’ve been battling garlic mustard for the last few years when it appeared it my side woods. One plant turned into a gazillion in about two years. I got rid of about 2/3rds of it last year (pulling, pulling, pulling) but expect to see a resurgence this May.

    I will try garlic mustard pesto recipe. Thanks.


  2. I had no idea what this stuff was, but I have a lot of it between a spruce and maple tree on my side yard. Nothing else grows there because of the shade so I let it be the firs 2 years, but mowed it every so often. Now, knowing what it is and having done more research on it, I’ll be upping the ante and doing what I can to kill it. I will be using herbicides though, poison ivy is intertwined with it in several areas.