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.
Garlic Mustard Kimchi Recipe
Makes a little more than a pint
- 1 pound Garlic Mustard, cut into 1–inch pieces
- 1 cup shredded radish
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. dried pepper flakes (this will be a mild-medium heat, use more to taste)
- 2 quarts kimchi pickling brine for soaking (2 quarts water mixed with 1/2 cup salt)
- Optional: 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1. Soak the cut garlic mustard (unopened buds and all) for about 2 hours in the soaking brine. After soaking, drain in a colander, saving some of the brine to add as needed.
2. Place soaked mustard in a bowl and mix in all of the remaining ingredients (including optional anchovy paste), massaging as you go. Taste to check salt and pepper level. The pepper quantity will vary with how piquant you want your ferment (remember heat is brought down just a touch during fermentation). The salt level is part of a successful ferment. You want to taste the salt in a pleasing way — like a chip — but you don’t want it to be overly briny. If it needs more salt, simply add a bit of the soaking brine until it tastes right.
3. Press into jar or crock, following basic instructions for your fermentation vessel.
This small quantity will ferment in about 4-5 days. This is strong flavored and best served as a condiment. It goes nicely over a white meat or fish. It will keep refrigerated for 3-4 months.
Kirsten K. Shockey is a post-modern homesteader who lives in the mountains of Southern Oregon. She writes about sauerkraut and life — but not necessarily in that order. She’s written a complete book of Fermented Vegetables and maintains the website Fermentista’s Kitchen.