Wednesday, May 4, 2011

LOVELY, TASTY INVASIVE



Let us be clear about this from the outset: garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolatais an invasive—a marching, pesky alien that, in certain areas and situations, spreads easily and forms a near monoculture along shady riverbanks and their wooded floodplains, on the sides of damp forest trails and roadways, anywhere that the light is dimmed and the soil moist. Because a single biennial plant produces thousands of seeds, and grows aggressively in the cool dampness of mid-spring, garlic-mustard severely threatens a number native species—including concurrent ephemerals such as bloodroot, Dutchman's breeches, hepaticas, toothworts, and trilliums, to name just a few, along with any insects and invertebrates that depend upon them. 

Yet the plant's single best weapon, the reason for its success, is a lack of natural enemies. Nothing much seems to like eating garlic-mustard, including whitetail deer. In Europe, the plant's original home, garlic-mustard is not invasive because it is relished by upwards of three dozen different species of insects; here in North America…zip, nada, not one bug finds it palatable—at least not enough so to make any difference to its unwanted expansion.

The irony is that garlic-mustard was brought to this country for food and as a medicinal herb by early settlers. The fact is, the young leaves of garlic-mustard—which tastes, as you might imagine, of both garlic and mustard—makes a good addition to salads, stir-fries, and sauces. I've not yet done so, but garlic-mustard is said to make an excellent pesto for pasta, baked potatoes, roasted veggies, even over broiled fish. 

Garlic-mustard's tiny (1/3 to 1/4 inch) flowers, grown in clusters atop a stalk that's anywhere from 1–3 feet tall, are nevertheless undeniably lovely. Pale white blooms that look like miniature cross-stitches amid the darker greenery.

Like so many other invaders we've introduced with good intentions, garlic-mustard has not only turned on us—it's settled in for the long haul, unlikely to ever be eradicated. The best we can do is learn how to remove the plants, and to do so whenever and wherever possible. And if you believe that vengeance is sometimes best served up for dinner, you'l be tastily rewarded.
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10 comments:

Robin said...

So many metaphors....

Michael Bartneck said...

I guess I'm gonna have to drop by so we can catch some fish out of that awesome stream you shot a few blogs back and then we'll just have to Alliaria petiolata the heck outta those bad boys!:)

Grizz………… said...

Robin…

A whole May freshet's worth. ;-)

Grizz………… said...

Michale…

Right now you'd have to use a grenade to extract anything from the bank-high river. Even the catfish have crawled into holes and pulled the mud up around them.

Beyond My Garden said...

Evil garlic mustard! Maybe we should start eating more of it - perhaps we can eat it up!
nellie

Kelly said...

...I didn't know you cook with the leaves! Hmmmmm... There sure is enough of it! :-)

The Weaver of Grass said...

We have masses of the stuff on the periphery of our wood - wonder if I might try a bit in a salad. I will let you know.

Grizz………… said...

Nellie…

Hey, I'll certainly do my part consuming greens—I love 'em, any and all!—but we're probably not going to make a dent…nor is anything short of importing some garlic-mustard loving critter for biological control. And while that MIGHT work, the track record says we'd just be importing one more problem to deal with afterwards.

However, I like the symbolism of sitting down to a meal with a garlic-mustard dish or two: You invade me—I'll up and eat ya!

Grizz………… said...

Kelly…

If you do, try and use young, more tender leaves, preferably from a pre-flowering plant, or one that's just started to flower. You can also gather the seeds a month from now or later, and use them in various relishes and sauces.

I just washed the leaves, sautéd them lightly in olive oil, added a bit of salt, and tossed them into a salad with tomatos, bell peppers, and carrots. I've also boiled, then lightly sautéd, and afterwards drizzled slightly with oil and added a pinch of salt—just like you'd do for dandelions. The washed, raw leaves can be tossed into all sorts of stir-fries. I like them stir-fried with slivers of sweet potato. And "wilted" with bacon and added to pasta. They do taste of garlic and mustard, so go slowly.

Here are two links I found with recipes that sound reasonable:

http://www.ma-eppc.org/weedrecipes.html
http://www.ma-eppc.org/morerecipes.html

Both are part of the same site (http://www.ma-eppc.org/) but while the second one is linked back to the recipes, there doesn't seem to be any link from the homepage to the "more recipes" page, just one to the main recipes page. (This is probably just me and my lack of computer savvy.)

Grizz………… said...

Weaver…

Most English cooks from centuries past certainly knew and used garlic-mustard. And the old herbalists—John Gerard, Maud Grieve, etc.—wrote and spoke highly of the plant, as did American botanist Edward Lewis Sturtevant.

It's not my favorite wild green (that would be dandelion) but it makes a tasty addition to many dishes, including soups and stews, and well as mixed salads.