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Garlic Mustard: Foraging for Free Food

Updated on February 28, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Garlic Mustard is a super invasive species of plant that has one redeeming feature. It is very good to eat and high in nutritional value. The plant was originally brought to New York state (Long Island) by colonists as a garden staple. Because of its' hardy nature and superior re-seeding characteristics, garlic mustard has taken the United States by storm, choking out native species. So strong is its' invasion that state agriculture agencies encourage people to pull it up, poison it, burn it, but the most eco-friendly option is to eat as much as you can.

Garlic mustard is high in vitamins A&C and was used by the colonists not only as a food, but to treat stomach ulcers and even gangrene! Like most plant foods, garlic mustard has contributed to the overall well being of the body. If people were more aware of the wonderful taste and value of this 'weed', it would no longer be a weed! The invasion could be stunted by thousands of hungry greens fans entering the garlic mustard habitat and happily munching away at the pesky plant.

Identifying Garlic Mustard

Luckily, garlic mustard is very easy to identify, even for the novice. There are no poisonous lookalikes! Garlic mustard has a basal rosette (bottom of the plant-leaves grow in a circle around the plant) and the older leaves look similar to blue violet leaves. Younger leaves nearer to the top of the plant are triangular and have a jagged edge. In the spring and early summer it has small white flowers. When the leaves are rubbed or crushed they give off a garlicky smell.

The smell is to repel insects from eating the plant. Bad for the bugs- good for us! Garlic mustard not only smells like garlic, it tastes like it, too. The leaves have a mildly bitter taste which is great when they are used raw in salads, mixed with milder leaves like iceberg lettuce and romaine. They can be used in pesto-a great recipe by the Wildman Steve Brill can be found on his site and other sites. Simply Google 'Garlic Mustard Pesto'! Or you can click Garlic Mustard Pesto to be taken to the original.

How to Prepare Garlic Mustard

Fans of other greens such as collard or mustard already know how to prepare garlic mustard in one of the old fashioned methods. For those who would like to try here is a quick 'How-To'.

  • Examine leaves for rot, bugs, and anything else that isn't appetizing.

  • Wash leaves to remove dirt and hidden bugs.

  • Steam or boil leaves just until tender.

From here the greens can be sauted with other greens or vegetables. Since garlic mustard has a strong flavor, it goes well in Asian inspired dishes. Try adding the cooked leaves into fried rice, teriyaki recipes, or even egg rolls. Garlic Mustard also has a long, white tap-root that has a flavor a lot like horseradish. Scrub, chop into thin slices and use as a replacement for horseradish in recipes.

Please note: Garlic mustard truly needs no cultivation. Do not grow this plant at home, it will escape cultivation and spread, even in city gardens. The plant is so hardy that the leaves can be found still growing under several feet of snow. Seeds can lie dormant, then grow after being carried far away. The garlic mustard invasion spread from Long Island to Oregon, to Canada. It can be found easily by anyone!


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    • profile image

      Nini 4 years ago

      Great article! I was wondering, where can I purchase a full grown plant?


    • profile image

      Plant lover 5 years ago

      Garlic mustard is a Fantastic addition to a fresh salad! Including the flower head clusters! So yummy!!

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 8 years ago

      This is really interesting because I absolutly love garlic, I put it in all my dishes, and to find out that their is a garlic mustard plant that makes me think of using it to make salads, its so amazing how its a weed and it could feed so many people not to mention provide excellent nutritional value, great find.

    • Joy At Home profile image

      Joy At Home 8 years ago from United States

      I haven't noticed this plant growing where I live, but I'll keep an I out for it. Thanks for the plant ID.