Friday, May 1, 2009

Garlic mustard: eat it today, kill it tomorrow

It's garlic mustard season. Actually, around here, it's garlic mustard season twelve months a year.

Garlic mustard is an non-native invasive that grows along every Westchester pathway you walk. It's on hillsides too, especially rocky ones where nothing else grows. If it has its way, nothing else will share that pathway or hillside, because garlic mustard kills other plants underground. If you have it near your garden or yard, pull it out! Get the roots and everything underground, because that's how it will spread.

However: "Wildman" Steve Brill identifies garlic mustard as a favorite edible woodland plant. Some people find the leaves bitter, but in the spring the bitterness is less of a problem, and it goes away anytime if the leaves are cooked. Brill substitutes the leaves for basil in pesto. They can also be mixed in with milder greens in a salad or used in a stir-fry. Incidentally, the leaves survive under snow, so if you are a determined forager you can find them in the woods all winter -- but they will need cooking to remove the bitterness. You won't want to eat the stems.

Wildman Steve says that the roots are like horseradish. Them I have not tried, but will bear the idea in mind. So here's how to solve this environmental conundrum: take a bag with you on your next walk. Pull up lots of garlic mustard, making sure to get the root. Eat the leaves. Save the root if you're curious and like horseradish. But whatever you do, don't put any part of it on your compost heap, and do not save the seeds for next year. There will still be plenty left in the woods no matter how much you pick.

Incidentally -- you do not want this in your garden no matter how much you like the taste! It's leggy and the flowers are boring. Trust me -- there really, truly will always be enough for you and your dinner party of twelve. Just walk along another ten feet and there it will be.

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