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A Sign of Spring: Wild Edible Garlic Mustard Returns

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 by: Melissa Sokulski
Tags: wild foods, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) A sure sign of spring is the return of green plants. Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis or Alliaria petiolata) is not only one of the first spring greens to appear, it is also edible and delicious. Garlic mustard is widespread: it grows along shaded roadsides, woody paths, and other shady areas. Garlic Mustard is a biennial plant in the mustard family (Brassicareae.)

Not only is garlic mustard wild and free, it is extremely healthy: full of vitamins, minerals, and vibrancy. Not all wild foods have been profiled nutritionally, but those that have often show more than twice the content of vitamins and minerals than similar domesticated crops (1). Learning about wild edibles is a big step toward self-sufficiency. They grow all around us: in yards, fields, empty lots, even up through cracks in city sidewalks.

Garlic Mustard leaves first appear as heart-shaped, coarsely-toothed, and veined leaves close to the ground. They taste and smell (when crushed) strongly of garlic. Soon the second year plants will send up their flower stalk; the leaves will alternate along the flower stalk and become thinner, and white four-petaled flowers will appear at the top.

According to field guides, there are no poisonous look-alikes and all parts of this plant are edible.

The leaves become bitter as the weather gets hot, so they are best collected in early spring and summer. Leaves can be collected either from the ground rosettes or from the stalk.

Flowers and chopped leaves can be added to salads for a nice pungent garlic flavor.

The roots can be collected in early spring and again in late fall, when no flower stalks are present. These are very spicy and taste like horseradish. The root can be chopped and steeped in apple cider vinegar for a spicy condiment.

In the fall the seeds, which have a mustard flavor, can be collected and eaten.

Garlic Mustard was brought to North America in the 1860`s as a culinary herb and has become quite invasive, threatening both native plants and animals.(2) Certain butterflies mistake the flowers of garlic mustard for Toothwort flowers, and lay their eggs on the garlic mustard, which is toxic to their larvae. The National Park Service recommends various management techniques such as hand removal to toxic herbicides to fire control: another excuse to sample and use this delicious wild edible plant.

Recipes:

Note: Collect leaves and stalks for the following recipes as early as you see the garlic mustard. Taste before using, especially as the season progresses. Once the weather becomes warm the leaves become increasingly bitter.

Garlic Mustard Vinegar

1. Fill a jar with garlic mustard leaves.
2. Cover with organic raw apple cider vinegar.
3. Cap with plastic lid. If using a metal lid, protect lid from corrosion by placing wax paper under the lid.
4. Steep for 4 - 6 weeks (though you can use before then, taste and see.)
5. Pour off and save vinegar for use, compost leaves.

Raw Garlic Mustard Pesto

1 1/2 cups garlic mustard leaves
1 1/2 cups spinach leaves
juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon (to taste)
1 clove garlic (or more to taste)
1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts
1/4 cup olive oil
salt or tamari to taste

Blend above ingredients in food processor or blender and enjoy.

Footnotes:

1. Forager`s Harvest, p.15
2. Wikipedia article

References:

Brill, Steve and Dean, Evelyn. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places. Hearst Books. New York. 1994.

Elias, Thomas S., and Dykeman, Peter A. Edible Wild Plants, A North American Field Guide. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. New York. 1990

Thayer, Samuel. The Forager`s Harvest; A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing Edible Wild Plants. Forager`s Harvest. Ogema, WI. 2006

National Parks Service website: http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/alpe1.h...

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/garlic_mustard



About the author

Melissa Sokulski is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of the website Food Under Foot, a website devoted entirely to wild edible plants. The website offers plant descriptions, photographs, videos, recipes and more. Her new workbook, Wild Plant Ally, offers an exciting, hands-on way to learn about wild edible plants.
Melissa also runs The Birch Center for Health in Pittsburgh, PA, providing the best in complementary health care: acupuncture, therapeutic massage and herbal medicine.




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