Friday, May 8, 2015

Garlic Mustard: Bad for the forest, good for dinner.

Spring has sprung in the Wissahickon and throughout the parks, forests, and streets of Philly. Our spring trees are blooming, grass is greening, birds are singing, bees buzzing, etc. Everything things seems to be beautiful and balanced. However, for every native plant fighting to share its beauty and nurture the animals and insects, there are invasive plants dominating their space. Garlic mustard is one of these invasive plants.

According to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), “Garlic mustard poses a severe threat to native plants and animals in forest communities. Many native wildflowers that complete their life cycles in the springtime occur in the same habitat as garlic mustard. Once introduced to an area, garlic mustard out competes native plants by aggressively monopolizing light, moisture, nutrients, soil and space. Wildlife species that depend on these early plants for their foliage, pollen, nectar, fruits, seeds and roots, are deprived of these essential food sources when garlic mustard replaces them. Humans are also deprived of the vibrant display of beautiful spring wildflowers.”  

So what is good about garlic mustard? It’s edible and delicious.
I first learned about invasive and edible forest plants at the Wissahickon Environmental Center (WEC) in the Wissahickon Valley Park, part of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. WEC and the Friends of the Wissahickon are a wealth of knowledge, and host a wide variety of exciting events and activities for children, families, and adults. Wild edible plant lessons are always a favorite and the dishes made are delicious. 

Garlic Mustard can be found almost anywhere there are weeds, so if you have a yard, garden or flower beds, you may have it growing on your property right now. It is also growing in an overwhelmingly large quantity in the Fairmount Park System, as well as most other parks throughout northeastern United States. While it is illegal to take anything from the forest or parks, it's a safe bet that if you ask the staff of your local environmental center if you could harvest it, the garlic mustard will not be missed.      

This recipe for Wissahickon Garlic Mustard Pesto can be altered to your taste, and eaten with crackers, on pasta, sauteed with vegetables, in soup, on pizza, etc. 

Click here for more information and delicious garlic mustard inspired recipes.  

Wissahickon Garlic Mustard Pesto

2 Cups Garlic Mustard Leaves (young 1st year plant)*
1 Clove Garlic
¾ Parmesan Cheese
~ ½ Cup Olive Oil (add to desired consistency) 
¼ Cup pine nuts (optional)

In a food processor, finely chop the Garlic-Mustard leaves, garlic and pine nuts
Slowly mix in cheese and oil to desired taste and consistency

Eat with bread, crackers, or pasta
Save for future dishes by freezing in ice cube trays

*When harvesting garlic mustard, harvest only the 1st year plant. Be careful not to knock into the 2nd year plants that are often nearby and spread their seeds. Pull the 1st year plants up by the roots and take everything home with you. Put what you do not use in the trash, never the compost. Because it is an invasive plant, we must take all precautions not to enable it to spread.

Click here for more information and delicious garlic mustard inspired recipes.