by Linda Conroy
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a plant that is often identified as a nuisance. Gardeners and farmers work to eradicate it and fail to see the potential food source that this plant offers. While I understand that it is quite vigorous and it does exude sinigrin a chemical that inhibits other plants, I also know that the abundance of this plant invites a culinary adventure and an opportunity to harvest rather than weed. The shift in intention can make all the difference in our relationship and connection to the earth.
For over two decades I have taught a program titled choosing herbal remedies for sustainability. This approach to working with the earth and plants, also called regenerative agriculture, can be applied to herbalism and foraging. Practicing Regenerative Herbalism is an approach that promotes conservation and rehabilitation. By harvesting plants like Garlic Mustard including the roots, seeds, we can harvest an abundant food source and restore areas so that other plants can thrive.
In addition to actively working with the plants, we can also trust that nothing is stagnant. Plant communities inevitably fall into line with the environment and garlic mustard is no exception. Researchers have found that once established the concentrations of sinigrin in garlic mustard decreases, demonstrating evolutionary change. They predict that garlic mustard will fall into harmony with native species, which will be able to re-colonize invaded areas.
In the meantime, as a forager and participant in the process, I can harvest and ingest this nutrient dense plant. Garlic mustard is a good source of fiber as well as vitamin A precurors, vitamin C and E and some of the B vitamins. In addition it contains potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, copper, iron and manganese as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Combining plants with oil or vinegar is a good way to potentiate nutrients and render them bioavailable to the body. While I enjoy the leaves in salads and cooked with other wild greens in season. I also like to preserve the entire plant. Below are a few recipes that I enjoy.
Garlic Mustard Root and/or Leaf Infused Vinegar
Harvest the entire plant. I take two baskets into the field, so that I can put leaves in the one and roots in the other. By doing this, I keep soil off of the leaves and only need to wash the roots when I prepare the vinegar.
Once the roots are washed, chop the leaves and roots into small pieces. Fill a jar to the top with plant material. I just eye up the amount of plant material and choose the right size jar. Pour vinegar over the plant material. I like to use raw apple cider vinegar. For infused vinegars I like to use plastic lids as vinegar will rust the lids. Label your preparation with the plant name (include the botanical name, as looking it up and writing it down is the only way you will learn this) and the date. Let this sit for 4-6 weeks. The resulting vinegar will be spicy and can be added to dressings, sauces, broths and wherever you would enjoy a spicy vinegar.
Dill Pickles with Garlic Mustard Seeds
(you can use this brine for other vegetables as well i.e. green beans, zucchini,
squash, radishes are some examples)
Ingredients and supplies
-non-iodized salt ( I like to use sea salt) ¼ cup for every gallon of water
-grape leaves (other options include oak or horseradish leaves as well as alum) these ingredients
help to keep vegetables firm.
-garlic mustard seeds (mustard seeds are often added to pickles and you can add any mustard seed that you have available)
-fresh dill heads or dried seeds
-ceramic crock or gallon jar
Make salt brine by boiling the water and pouring it over the sea salt. Set aside to cool. Put garlic, onions
and dill on the bottom of the crock or jar. Place cucumbers on top of these and then place a layer of leaves
on top to cover. Repeat these layers until your crock or jar is full, leaving a ¼ of an inch space.
When it is cool pour salt brine over the layers to cover.
Put a plate or other container inside the crock or jar to keep the vegetables below the brine. Put a
cheesecloth with a rubber band around it on the top. Keep in a cool place for 2-4 weeks. Skim any mold
that forms on a daily basis. After 2-4 weeks store in a cool place or in the refrigerator up to 6 months.
Garlic Mustard Paste (Pesto)
2 cups chopped garlic mustard leaves
2/3 cup olive oil
2 TBS lemon juice
Pinch of salt to taste
Combine these two ingredients and blend them in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add the lemon juice and salt, blend again and adjust to taste.
I put this paste in 4 ounce jars and freeze it for later use.
The paste can be used in soups, sauces, dressings, dips, spreads, eggs and stir fry vegetables. I like to think of it as a spice. If I want to add cheese or nuts, and use this as a pesto, I will add these right before I am going to prepare it.