When Life Hands You Garlic Mustard, Ferment It!

| 3/27/2019 2:50:00 PM

 Garlic Mustard BHughey

Calling all wildcrafters and foragers — pick all you can! The usual advice is to forage lightly and with respect. Leave plants to reproduce. However, in the case of a few invasive species, it is okay to pluck with wild abandon, not allowing the plants to reproduce. One of these is garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), and its unopened flowers are very similar to rapini (aka broccoli rabe) in taste and texture.

It was introduced to the U.S. as a food and medicine brought by European settlers and is first recorded on Long Island in 1868. This plant is a problem across the northeast U.S., much of the Midwest, and in scattered pockets throughout the South, West, and Alaska.

Invasive species can play havoc on ecosystems by out competing native species. Often these silent invaders thrive in foreign ecosystems, because none of their competitors came along to balance them. For example, in its native habitat, garlic mustard has 69 insects that feed upon it, in North America — none.

In the case of garlic mustard, it also has sheer numbers on its side: It can produce 62,000 seeds per square meter, and these little guys remain viable for 5 years.

When you find this plant heading up in mid to late April and May, go ahead and pull it out by the root, which you can cut off, keeping the tender upper stems, leaves, and unopened florets to eat. Eat some fresh — it can be steamed or braised — and ferment some for later.

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