How To Forage Wild Garlic Mustard
An unassuming wild green with a delicious peppery flavor, garlic mustard weed is an excellent plant to start foraging. Wild garlic mustard grows abundantly across the country, is highly nutritious, and packs a rich, sharp flavor that is perfect in fresh salads or added to savory dishes. Foraging garlic mustard weed is easy, too, once you know what to look for in the plant.
The Invasive Issue
Wild garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) plant is native to Europe but is now naturalized across much of North America. The garlic mustard weed is considered invasive and, in many cases, problematic for native plants. This issue is actually a great reason to start eating more of it! It’s here already; we can’t change that. So, let’s forage this natural resource and enjoy its culinary and health benefits.
Because of its invasive nature, it’s okay to pull up the whole plant by the roots. I do this and then simply snip off the tops for eating and throw the rest in the garbage. Do not be tempted to compost, as the plant can still flower and spread seeds.
Tips for Hand Removal of Garlic Mustard Weed
- It’s best initially to pull during flowering, before the plants produce seed.
- Pull at the base of the plant and try to remove the entire root.
- Even though the garlic mustard has been pulled, it can still finish flowering and spread its seeds. – do not leave it on the ground or add it to compost! Be sure to bag and dispose of pulled plants as garbage.
- Mowing garlic mustard can make matters worse because plants will still send up flowers and seed. To prevent spreading, do not mow garlic mustard when seed pods are present (May-September).
- Revisit pulled sites as often as possible to re-pull plants that sprout from left behind root fragments. This is especially important later in the spring as seeds develop.
How To Identify Wild Garlic Mustard
Garlic mustard weed grows in patches, with individual plants averaging 2-3 feet tall. The stems are thin and green, with deep-green leaves growing alternately up them. Wild garlic mustard leaves have toothed edges and are generally a bit heart-shaped with a pointed tip. Lower leaves aren’t as pointy, and their edges are more scalloped than toothed. Sometimes, the leaf edges are tinged with purple.
The flowers are small and white with four petals, and they grow as clusters on the top of the stems. Blooms appear in early to mid-spring, and this is the best time to start looking for garlic mustard plants. To be sure what you have found is garlic mustard, crush a few leaves between your fingers; the garlic smell is unmistakable.
Where Does Garlic Mustard Weed Grow?
Garlic mustard grows in disturbed areas, like along roadsides, trails, fences, walking paths, parking lots, and anywhere people have dug up the earth. Forest edges, shaded woodlands, and the perimeters of open fields are also common places to forage garlic mustard. While it does grow prolifically in many places, we recommend caution foraging along roadsides or parking lots where chemicals or pollutants may contaminate it
How To Harvest Wild Garlic Mustard Weed
All parts of the plant are edible, so feel free to harvest leaves, stems, and seeds. The leaves taste best when the plant is young; once the flowers go to seed, they become quite bitter-tasting. Don’t be shy when harvesting; it’s absolutely fine to pull up the whole plant (just be sure to follow disposal guidlines above), and the local ecosystem will appreciate it.
How Should I Prepare Wild Garlic Mustard?
The leaves of garlic mustard are pungent, with a sharp, primarily peppery taste similar to horseradish. Some people say it tastes more like garlic, while others compare it to mustard. It is likely the flavor varies based on the growing conditions and quality of the soil, and when it was harvested. We think it has more of a mustard flavor, like garden-grown mustard greens.
When harvested young before the flowers bloom, the stems are crunchy and similar to raw broccoli combined with snap peas. Eat these raw, or lightly saute them with oil and salt.
Prepare garlic mustard weed in the same way that you would use mustard greens. It is an excellent addition to fresh salads, used to make pesto, or as a lettuce alternative in a sandwich. Garlic mustard can be eaten raw or cooked. Cooking it takes away the bitterness, so if you’re not a fan of the mildly bitter aftertaste, include it with cooked greens or soups and stews.
Nutritional Benefits of Wild Garlic Mustard
Garlic mustard weed is a member of the cruciferous vegetable group. It is high in vitamins C, A, and E. It also contains fiber, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese. In short, garlic mustard weed is a nutritional powerhouse and an excellent healthy green vegetable.
If you’re new to foraging, wild garlic mustard is a perfect beginner plant. It grows prolifically around the country, has distinctive leaves and growth habits, and isn’t challenging to identify. Garlic mustard is an excellent savory addition to the dinner table, and you don’t ever have to worry about foraging too much!
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An unassuming wild green with a delicious peppery flavor, garlic mustard weed is an excellent plant to start foraging.
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