Wild Edibles: How to Identify and Eat Garlic Mustard

by Erich

Disclaimer: Eating certain wild plants can be deadly!!

Be certain to consult a professional (or a really good field guide) in order to positively identify this plant before trying this for yourself. The owners of this site will not be held responsible for any lapses in judgment or stupidity when handling or consuming wild plants.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is one of those plants that for the longest time I knew what it was and that it was edible but by the time I had the time to try it, it had long since wilted (it begins to wilt away in early summer).

So if you’re looking to harvest this to eat you’ve got to catch early on in the season or you’ll miss out.

Here’s how it’s done (if you want a written description, just skip the video and go directly to the article below it):

How to Identify Field Garlic

Garlic Mustard is a biennial flowering plant in the Mustard family that is native to Europe and parts of Asia.

Here in the U.S. it’s a noxious (I like to say abnoxious) weed that crowds out our native plants. But luckily for us, it’s a very tasty and nutritious plant and should be harvested as much as possible to mitigate its spread.

The first step before eating any wild edible is to positively identify it. Fortunately, there aren’t really any poisonous look-a-likes so if you can match the following traits (most of all, smell) it’s pretty certain you’ve found it.

Here are the distinguishing characteristics:

First-Year Growth

Scallop-edged leaves in a basal rosette: You’ll find rounded, kidney-shaped leaves with scalloped edges.
Plant smells like garlic when crushed: To test for this, take any part of the plant (esp. the leaves) and crush it down to release some liquid and if it’s garlic mustard, you’ll detect the distinct smell of garlic.

Second-Year Growth

Stalk with alternate leaves: In its second year of growth, garlic mustard will develop a stalk with alternate leaves.
Toothed leaves: The second-year growth’ leaves are more deeply toothed than the first year.
Small four-petaled white flowers: Like others in the mustard family, the four-petaled flowers are a giveaway. These are about the size of your pinky nail.
Smells “garlic-like” when bruised or broken: Same as the first year

Where to Find Garlic Mustard

Although it can grow in sunny areas, you’ll more likely find Garlic mustard hanging around moist, shaded soil of river floodplains, forests, roadsides, edges of woods and trails edges and forest openings. In disturbed areas (like construction sites) you can find huge invasions of the stuff.

Here’s the range map indicating where Garlic Mustard has officially been found, however given the obnoxious, noxiousness of this plant, I’m sure it’ll be in a neighborhood near you some time soon…

How to Eat Field Garlic

Garlic Mustard can be used in many dishes that call for spinach or garlic. If, for example, you’re making spinach lasagna and replace it with Garlic Mustard, you’ll find that the mustard adds a little “kick” to it.

My favorite recipe using it though is in a pesto sauce (replacing basil). You can watch me demonstrate it in the video at the beginning of this article. Here’s the recipe…

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of washed compressed garlic mustard
  • 1 cup of nuts (I like using 1/2 cup of pine nuts and 1/2 cup of walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a blender or food processor, put in garlic mustard, nuts and 1/4 cup of oil.
  2. While blending above, slowly add the remaining oil until blended
  3. Stop blender and add cheese and quickly blend on lowest speed to mix
  4. Add salt and pepper to tasted

The above pesto is great with pasta or as a dip. Enjoy!

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14 Comments»

Comment by akaGaGa
2013-05-31 16:46:09

Sounds good. Thanks for the info!

 
Comment by Christopher
2013-05-31 17:19:53

Watched the video (on youtube and subscribed too) and the juice does look good. I’ll go hunting for it next time I am in the woods.

On a side note, I carry extra coffee filters in my bag in a Ziploc baggie that might be good rather than an old t-shirt. They come in handy for anything from stuffing a deep wound to filtering liquids to using as fire starter. Like you, I have to justify carrying what I pick and try to be sure it has at least three purposes.

Stay safe!

Christopher

 
Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-05-31 17:32:22

Great tip Christopher. Thanks! (and thanks for subscribing)

 
Comment by Julie
2013-05-31 18:59:48

In their older stage, they look similar to nettles. How would you advise people to tell the difference so they don’t actually grab hold of a nettle? Thanks!!

 
Comment by Sarah
2013-05-31 19:33:31

Julie,
If you look carefully at the stems and underside of the leaves; Nettles have stinging hairs(needles), mustard is smooth. Both are good to eat when young, steam or boil nettles like you would Spinach.

Here in Oregon, Garlic Mustard is an invasive that we are trying to eradicate in some areas and simply contain in others. It is an Allelopathic plant which kills most other plants around it creating a mono-culture, thus destroying the biodiversity where it is found. It is very tasty.

 
Comment by Terry
2013-05-31 19:58:48

Got any market for this product? We’re fighting it back everywhere, and it’s a losing battle.
We’ve thought about eating it, but weren’t sure. I’m not a big fan of pesto, but I might have to convince the wife to try it in lasagna.

 
Comment by Pat
2013-05-31 21:04:18

Another easy to find and use edible is day lilies. You cut at ground level and use the part at the bottom like you would a leek. You can eat them raw with a slight peppery taste or cook like other greens. I just had some yesterday on my one day practice survival.

 
Comment by Larry
2013-05-31 22:52:29

LOL! Sounds delicious, Erich, Now, every time I go hiking, I’ll be on the lookout for both that and the equally rare Dijonnaise Plant. Two for the road!

 
Comment by kilterannie
2013-06-03 12:51:29

I saw a recipe for Boursin-style cheese with garlic mustard in the Wild Things Roundup over at hungerandthirstforlife.blogspot.com.

 
Comment by Pat
2013-06-09 09:41:34

Just steamed up my first lambs quarters last night. Just like spinach but, I think, even better. They are loaded with lots of vitimans and minerals. They grow as weeds in most peoples veggie gardens and in any disturbed soil. The stems are tough so just eat the leaves and tips. A little garlic and olive oil and delish!

 
Comment by Simon
2013-06-24 12:45:38

I don’t know about the US garlic mustard, though it looks the same, (or to give it its other name herer in the UK of “Jack by the hedge”, (don’t ask me! I just eat the stuff). But all the garlic mustard I’ve ever eaten has a slight bitter after taste, but I’ve only ever eaten it raw, never cooked with it, I’ve come to like this bitterness, and only ever have it as an addition to a salad with everything else I could forage at the time, eaten raw all edible leaves have a higher vitamin mineral content than with cooked, unless you include the cooking water as your stock.

 
Comment by jane
2016-04-22 13:58:21

Garlic Mustard is a terrible invasive here! I pull out bushels of the stuff from my property every year. I’ve used it in sandwiches instead of lettuce, but will be trying your pesto recipe soon (it’s just begun popping up this year).

 
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