Wild Edibles: How to Identify and Eat Garlic Mustard
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:
|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.|
|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
- 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
- In a blender or food processor, put in garlic mustard, nuts and 1/4 cup of oil.
- While blending above, slowly add the remaining oil until blended
- Stop blender and add cheese and quickly blend on lowest speed to mix
- Add salt and pepper to tasted
The above pesto is great with pasta or as a dip. Enjoy!