Garlic Mustard – Coming to a Garden Near You

May 12, 2008

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.

Young Garlic PlantGarlic 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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  • Sounds like the plant can be invasive. Would you agree?

  • Garlic mustard is taking over our neighborhood. It’s extremely invasive here in Minnesota, just as bad as buckthorn. I live in a wooded area, and I think those are the two most populous plants. Several neighbors are trying to keep it in check, but it spreads so very quickly that it’s difficult to do. And once it’s there, it shades out all the native woodland flowers. I just wish we could eat it as fast as it grows!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Jeff, yes I would consider garlic mustard to be extremely invasive and I frequently come across huge patches of it growing here in PA.

  • Greg

    We have a lot of the garlic mustard in our backyard. I didn’t know what it was until I came across this article. Last week my wife and I cleared out a garbage bag full of it along our fence line (again, not having any idea what it was). It was invasive last year as well. Pulling it was easy (for the most part). We are going to take some over to a botanist to confirm it is in fact garlic mustard, and will end up cooking it up one way or another in the near future.


    I did not know garlic mustard roots were also edible. I plan on doing some more research on that and giving them a try. Great to know because it has taken over my woods and is here to stay so I should at least make use of them more often.

    I use the leaves in salads. Sometimes I will cut the leaves up and cook it up with other foods.

    Thank you for another informative post.

  • Great site, pix, and info! Thanks!

  • erika

    Do you know of a source to obtain seeds for this (garlic mustard)? I do container gardening. Have collard, turnip, mustard (regular) greens, kale, and spinach. Would love to add this to my garden.


  • Kenny Point

    Hello Erika, no I don’t know a source for garlic mustard seed… and if I did I wouldn’t tell you! You really don’t want to be planting that stuff as it is extremely invasive. If you really want to try some garlic mustard I’m sure there are plenty of gardeners around that can offer you all of it that you can pick. I’m not sure where you are, but there is a good chance that it may be growing wild nearby.

  • Milton

    I live in SE MI where garlic mustard is considered invasive by many people. There are garlic mustard pulls throughout the year. Rumor has it that the plant releases chemicals into the soil that prevent other plants from growing. I have yet to see a case where it is true.

    It is an outstanding edible. The plant is biennial. The first year it grows leaves only on a plant up to 1 foot tall. The first year plants resemble violets but without flowers. The first year leaves can be harvested all year long from March through November. The second year the plant starts growing upward at the beginning of April and by mid May the seeds stalks appear. The plant also flowers during this time. After July the second year plant dies once the seeds have been produced. By the first week of July the seeds can be harvested. I take a pail and point the plant into the pail, shake it some and the seeds fall into the pail. I collected 1.5 lb. in 40 minutes. The leaves and upper stalks (before they get woody) can be used of the second year plants with the same uses as the first year plants. The roots of the second year plants have a taste like horseradish. The seeds can be used like pepper. The leaves etc. can be used in salads, in a pesto and are excellent with any type of meat, fish or poultry. I have put a half dozen leaves on a hamburger and it has a taste that can’t be beat. The only thing that doesn’t work too well is the raw leaves since they have a very strong garlic taste but when mixed with other foods that mask that taste, it adds a great flavor.

    Between the first and second year plants there is a supply for 8 months of the year. It doesn’t seem to be afflicted with diseases or insests. Yes, it is invasive so it takes some minimal control. All in all, I think it is a miracle plant.

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