Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

Part of Ep. 1202 The Goodness of Gardening

Cynthia Harrington shares a strategy to assist backyard gardens that are being choked by an incredibly fast-moving invasive weed called garlic mustard. She suggests you eat it!

Premiere date: Apr 21, 2004

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Ryan:
I have a certain fondness for weeds. Perhaps because they're one of the best crops in my backyard! The bad news is there's a new weed in Wisconsin. It's taking over our woodlands. The good news is there's a rumor it's edible! I'm with Cynthia Harrington who recently got her master's degree in Conservation Biology. Cynthia, you did your thesis on kind of a different topic. Tell me about that.

Cynthia Harrington:
It's about controlling an invasive plant garlic mustard through harvest for human consumption. Basically about eating it. Eating it. First of all, let's talk about what garlic mustard is. Here's our plant. Lovely. It's native to Europe and the British Isles. It was brought over here deliberately.

Ryan:
On purpose?

Harrington:
That's right.

Ryan:
Recently?

Harrington:
In the mid-19th century. And it's been spreading ever since. It's all over southern Wisconsin now and moving north.

Ryan:
Why is it an issue? Let's talk about the life cycle. Is this what we should look for when we're out in the woods?

Harrington:
You'll see this. And then you'll see it start to elongate and bolt and put out flowers. That's when it's most visible.

Ryan:
Okay, but it starts sooner than that?

Harrington:
Sure, let's look at these seedlings. This has just come up this year.

Ryan:
It's already up this much?

Harrington:
Yes. It's early spring here and they're just taking off. They'll grow over the summer into a little cluster of leaves, like this.

Ryan:
Okay.

Harrington:
Then in April, May, June, they'll start to bolt. And produce little white cross-shaped flowers. Here we have a stalk from last year's flowers.

Ryan:
When I'm driving through the woods in April, May and I see these hills of beautiful white that's not a good thing?

Harrington:
That's all garlic mustard. And unfortunately, it's crowding out a lot of our nice, native wild flowers.

Ryan:
Look at how early it is, and it's up already.

Harrington:
Right, it does have an advantage.

Ryan:
And the seeds are a problem.

Harrington:
It produces hundreds of seeds per plant. These are the old seed pods that are dried out from last year. After its second year it produces seeds and then it dies. But these little seeds can get lodged in your shoes. So, if you've been hiking in an area with garlic mustard you want to scrape off your shoes before you go into your own garden.

Ryan:
We can certainly help that way. Try to stop its spread. We know why we want to control it. It's wrecking our spring flowers. But why would I want to eat it?

Harrington:
Well, it's in the mustard family like a lot of familiar vegetables broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale.

Ryan:
Okay, those I like.

Harrington:
It's very high in vitamin A, high in vitamin C. Give it a taste. It has a slight garlic flavor.

Ryan:
It tastes good. That's why I'd want to eat it! Sure. I can envision that in a salad. That's delicious.

Harrington:
And in lots of different recipes.

Ryan:
Let's go take a look at some of them.

Harrington:
There are lots of different ways you can eat garlic mustard. Both the leaves and the roots are edible. You can chop up the roots after you've scrubbed them, of course.

Ryan:
Right, we clean anything we dig in the woods.

Harrington:
Put the chopped roots into a wide-mouth jar and pour apple cider vinegar over it. Let it steep for six weeks. And then you'll have a nice, vibrant horseradishy, garlic mustard infused vinegar. Here, I've put in some of the whole roots just to make it pretty.

Ryan:
Then, use that for a salad dressing?

Harrington:
Sure, right! We can put these garlic mustard leaves into the tossed salad, as well.

Ryan:
Wonderful. Then you'd have the zing added to the salad.

Harrington:
Right, a little bit of a slightly bitter and slightly garlic flavored addition to the salad. It's also really delicious in pesto. Of course, "pesto" the Italian word, just means "pounded." You can use any kind of herbs. So, in this, I used half basil to make a traditional pesto and half garlic mustard.

Ryan:
I can smell that.

Harrington:
Right. You can cut back on the garlic that you add.

Ryan:
So, if I run out of garlic I'll go out in the back woods, unfortunately... There you go! And this soup is just, the smell is heavenly. This has garlic mustard?

Harrington:
This is delicious soup. It's Persian Yogurt Rice Soup, which I have adapted from one of the Moosewood cookbooks The Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special. It calls for spinach, I've used garlic mustard.

Ryan:
We can substitute in most recipes?

Harrington:
For spinach. If it's too bitter, blanch it for a minute and then cook with it.

Ryan:
That'll soften up the flavor a little bit. One thing we need to remind people about is first of all, to get permission if you go on private property. Don't pick where there might have been chemicals sprayed or where there'd be pollution like along the roadside. You said there was a good brochure that can help give us more information?

Harrington:
The University Extension has a great brochure about identification and control.

Ryan:
Excellent. We have a direct link with Extension on our Web site. And we will also have the recipes for all of these. Thanks, Cynthia.

Harrington:
Thank you, Shelley.

EPISODE SEGMENTS+

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