Kale isn’t the only leafy green that is attracting attention in my garden this spring, Garlic Mustard is a wild edible weed that is also difficult to ignore these days.
That’s because you can’t venture too far without noticing waves of the plant sporting the small white flowers that rise above the heart shaped crinkled leaves. I’m not a big fan of garlic mustard as an edible dish, but it is another good plant to become acquainted with and to file away as an emergency food source.
Garlic Mustard the Gardener’s Friend or a Dreaded Foe
I wouldn’t recommend that you welcome the growth of this wild edible because it is extremely invasive, has a nasty habit of spreading, and can out compete and replace native species in the landscape. It’s not too difficult to control by hand weeding when the plant is young, but the problem is that it spreads quickly and usually grows in large colonies.
Garlic Mustard has migrated from a slightly wooded area of my backyard and has now moved into a corner of one of the raised vegetable beds. I’ll be removing it from the garden soon, and will also do more to discourage and control its growth in all parts of the backyard. After it matures, garlic mustard produces many seeds that will scatter and can remain viable for years before finally germinating.
Take a walk out to a forest or field and you’ll often find garlic mustard growing along the fringes and in the transition areas. It’s not difficult to identify this plant with its unique leaf shape, wrinkled texture, and small clusters of white flowers on plants that tend to grow in large groups. Once established it can quickly take over and doesn’t like to share its territory with other plants.
If You Can’t Beat it What about the Opportunity to Eat it
On a brighter note garlic mustard is a versatile edible plant, and that may be the reason it was introduced into this country in the first place. Crush the leaves and you will detect a faint scent of fresh garlic that it takes its name from. And this is a hardy edible weed that doesn’t fade away during the winter months when green vegetation is in short supply.
Garlic Mustard leaves are eaten raw in salads or they can be cooked and mixed with other wild or cultivated leafy greens. The roots are edible with a spicy flavor like horseradish and the seeds can even be collected for use as a spice. Garlic Mustard also has some past history as a medicinal plant.
Always take precautions when handling any wild edible:
- Secure a positive identification – a picture may be “worth a thousand words” but it has limited value when it comes to identifying wild plants. You’re always better off to seek guidance from someone with experience before foraging wild plants or edible weeds.
- Know your location and sources – you must always avoid harvesting plants from areas that have been sprayed with chemicals or exposed to pollutants. In other instances you should avoid removing plants from areas where they are in short supply or if they have not had a chance to multiply.
- Beware of food sensitivities – just because a wild plant is known to be edible does not guarantee that you won’t be allergic or have a food sensitivity to it, so go easy and act accordingly anytime that you choose to sample a new or unfamiliar wild food source.
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