Garlic Mustard – An Edible, Delicious Invasive
By Trish Fries, Environmental Education Program Specialist
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a common invasive plant seen all over the forest floor in the Wissahickon and throughout the eastern United States. A native of Europe and Asia, it was introduced into this country for use medicinally and as an edible herb. Love it for its flavor–it can be a tasty springtime treat–or hate it for its invasive nature. We often let our young visitors take a sniff or a nibble off the plants along the trail. Most children make a face tasting its garlicky flavor, which, depending on the season, can be mild or strong. At the Tree House, our favorite use of garlic mustard is during the spring when it is made into garlic mustard pesto.
Garlic mustard is a biennial plant. It is characterized by a scalloped-shape leaf forming basal rosettes its first year. It its second year, the adult form has small white flowers on tall stalks that flower in May and June. Being a member of the mustard family, it has many small seeds which mature in August. Even the seeds taste like garlic. All parts of the plant are edible and nutritious and contain Vitamins A and C, and many trace minerals.
As with many plants found in the park, there are historical medicinal uses for garlic mustard, ranging from treating bronchitis to gangrene. Perhaps more relevant to our casual use in the woods is making a poultice to relieve the itching of bug bites. Try crushing a leaf and rubbing it on your bite.
In the late 1800s the plant escaped into the wild and has since become a threat to our native wildflower populations. The overabundance of garlic mustard can be attributed to several survival mechanisms. It has hundreds of seeds per plant and high tannin levels that deter deer from eating it. It is also allelopathic, meaning it releases chemicals that hinder the growth of other plants nearby. While it is against park regulations to remove any plant from the park, it is a safe bet that if you ask the staff of your local environmental center if you could harvest some garlic mustard, it will not be missed.
Photo courtesy of USDA