I was watching the local news the other evening when a piece about nuisance plants came on. A Shenandoah National Park Ranger was talking about having volunteers come in for a day of nuisance plant removal. The main focus was garlic mustard–a dastardly invasive plant!
My immediate thought was “I wonder what it is good for?” And of course, that set me off on a full-blown research project. I nibbled it and it tasted like mild garlic. It made a delightful pesto (see recipe below) and added a kick to a toss salad. I want to make horseradish with the root next. Wow. This dastardly plant is tasty! But it also is a nuisance plant because it is such a prolific plant that it crowds out native plants. It was introduced in American to the Long Island area in the 1800’s. In Europe, it had predators and insects to control the spread, but it has no natural enemies here to hold it in check. Our whitetail deer won’t even eat it, Instead, they eat the native plants around the garlic mustard which allows even more aggressive spreading of the plant.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) – related to garlic and onions) is a biennial plant that grows in the shade and partial shade, at the wood’s edge, roadsides and even in fields and yards. To keep it from spreading, pull the plant up and either bag it or burn it. Never put it in compost or even throw it aside! Especially if the seed pods have formed (each plant can produce up to 8,000 seeds!). The leaves are deep green, kidney shaped and coarsely toothed the first year, but the second year leaves are more triangular but still “toothy”. When crushed, the leaves give off an onion or garlic scent. The blooms are small, white and numerous. After the blooms fall off, the stems become long skinny seed pods which look similar to a “pencil” plant. If you do nothing else, please remove the seed pods and burn them to prevent further spreading.
Garlic mustard has been used in traditional herbalism as a healing food (extremely nutritious), tincture and poultice (gangrene or ulcers). It is rich in vitamins A, B, C, E and C. It has some iron, sulphur and glycolsides all of which help tone the body and increase immunity.
Historically, garlic mustard has been used for the following: asthma, antiseptic, insecticide, immune system booster like its cousin garlic, colds, lethargy, poor circulation and heart disease. It was also used to get rid of lice. Susan Weed says you can make mustard root garlic vinegar (see recipe below), stir it into water and take to relieve sinus congestion.
Although garlic mustard is usually eaten raw (after soaking) in a salad (finely chopped) or as a cooked green, I have found it is delicious on a sandwich (use it like a lettuce leaf). did find some fine recipes. You can also substitute garlic mustard leaves for in recipes calling for garlic. I did an internet search and found several good recipes. Here are a few of the Recipes:
1 cup of garlic mustard leaves
A clove or two of garlic
3 tablespoons garlic mustard root
1/2 to 1 cup fresh parsley
1 cup of fresh chickweed or parsley (you could also use basil)
2 cups of pine nuts or walnuts or nut of your choice
1 cup plus as needed olive oil
You could also add some grated Parmesan cheese
Place garlic and garlic mustard roots in a food processor and chop. Add everything else except nuts and chop. Add nuts and chop coarsely. Now add olive oil slowly as you mix until the pesto reaches a paste consistency. Salt to taste and add more of anything you want!
Pull or dig garlic mustard plants. Cut the greens from the roots and wash the roots thoroughly. Dry the roots. Purée the roots in food processor until well grated. For every cup of grated roots, add 1/2 cup organic apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg Organic Vinegar) and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt or pink Himalayan salt and blend for a minute or two. It is ready to eat or store in the refrigerator. Although I haven’t tried it, one recipe called for adding beet root to give it a sweeter taste and a pretty color. They recommended 4 ounces of beet per cup of wild Horseradish.
Sautéed Garlic Mustard Leaves
Sautéed them in olive oil and butter. HMMMM!
Coat the leaves with olive oil and sea salt and slide them in the oven under the broiler for a few minutes.
Garlic Mustard Root Vinegar (Susan Weed’s recipe)
Wash the root and chop finely. Place the root in a glass jar and then fill the jar with apple cider vinegar. Cover with non-metallic lid. You can use immediately or wait for a couple of hours until the vinegar pulls the red coloration out of the roots.
Now for the cautions. Garlic mustard, like over 2500 other plants, contains cyanide but most experts say that the “cyanide is usually minimal…and is not a threat to people.” Also, I have read that the younger the plant, the more cyanide to contains (I look for the tall second year plant). You decide. I wouldn’t eat it three times a day seven days a week, but eating it a couple of times a week seems like a viable option to me. And of course, as with trying anything new, eat just a little the first time to see if you have a reaction to the plant–remember, you can be allergic or sensitive to any plant.
Soaking it in water for an hour before using may remove some of the cyanide (discard the water). I did read about one fellow who became sick after eating garlic mustard because he is sensitive to cyanide. He says he can’t even eat tapioca because of the cyanide.
I knew what garlic mustard looked like and also knew it could be cooked like greens or added to a salad, but I had never fixed it. Now, because it is an early spring plant, it is also going to be one if my favorite spring treats! And just think, every time I harvest a garlic mustard plant for food, I am not just nourishing my body, but also keeping a nuisance plant in check. So don’t just complain about the invaders…eat the invaders!Important Note! The information in Wholistically Speaking is for educational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose and/or treat diseases. If you have a health problem, I highly recommend you consult a competent health practitioner and educate yourself before embarking on any course of treatment.