Edible Invasives (Part 1)
Ready for spring cookouts? Try adding garlic mustard pesto to your meal and you will be eating fresh, local, and helping control an invasive plant disrupting the native ecosystem around you. Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, tastes great, just like garlic, but is a fast growing plant that changes soil chemistry and inhibits other plants from growing. Introduced from Europe in colonial times, it was brought from the homeland as a culinary herb, but without any native predator to keep its population in check, it escaped from gardens, multiplied and started crowding out native plants. It is now a threat to biodiversity. Also, with the strong garlic taste/odor it is usually inedible to animals so it doesn’t have any threats or competition to keep its population in check. Hence people need to manage these plants.
Easily identified by small white flowers in early spring (late April-June), the plant can reach 4 feet in height with leaves that are deep-veined and heart shaped. Only the second year plant blooms, while the first year plant remains close to the ground, a small rosette of 4-8 kidney-shaped leaves. This rosette is present throughout the year and is also one of the first plants with active green growth in the early spring. Another easy, obvious identifier is that when you crush the leaves, they smell like garlic. Over time, it with form an extensive stand of only garlic mustard, and its reduction on diversity will be evident.
Management of this invasive plant includes manual pulling, chemical control, and even controlled burns. Hand pulling the plant before it sets seed helps prevent thousands of seeds from entering the environment. Each biennial plant produces 3,000 seeds which are viable in the soil for over 5 years. So be prepared sometimes when you start pulling many plants from an area, the soil disturbance triggers germination of the seeds already present in the surrounding soil. However, take advantage of the plants you pull, and use the young, tender leaves in garlic mustard pesto (recipe below); its great on crackers, pizza, salads, and pasta; your local ecosystem will thank you!
Garlic Mustard Pesto
1 ½ cup garlic mustard leaves ¾ cup Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic ¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts salt, pepper, and basil to taste
Combine all ingredients and blend well. Be sure to use young, tender leaves. Serve as a dip, sauce, or spread.