Spring is my favorite season, watching the new plants emerge from their winter slumber is always inspiring. It is a time of rebirth and renewal, and for me, a chance to reconnect with nature again. One of my favorite ways to do this is to forage wild plants. Foraging forces you to slow down and really look at the plants that are growing beneath your feet, it is also a great way to build your plant identification skills.
A plant I encourage everyone to forage is garlic mustard:
- It is easy to identify
- It is invasive so you will be doing the environment a favor by picking it
- You can find it almost anywhere
- It is very flavorful and nutritious (high in Vitamin A, C, E, B vitamins, beta carotene, omega-3s, and minerals)!
Alternate leaves are kidney to heart shaped with scalloped (toothed) edges and deep ridges
Small, white, four petaled flowers (not all plants will have flowers)
Smooth stem (not hairy, no thorns)
Growth and habitat:
The plant grows only on the ground. It likes forested areas and can form a green monoculture on the forest floor.
The plant is ready to pick in April and early spring!
Where to pick:
Make sure you have permission to forage, many local preserves do not want you to get off the trail and pick plants, so be mindful! A backyard is a great place. It is important that you do not pick from an area that is sprayed with herbicides (eg, not near landscaping), away from major roads, and away from frequent dog walking areas (you don’t want to eat dog pee, yuck!)
How to pick it:
Snap off the young flower stalks with young tender leaves. Light green and young leaves are the best (dark green lower leaves can be tough and very bitter). You can use scissors/clippers or your fingers to pick off the leaves. Feel free to pull up the whole plant after you have gathered the leaves you wish to cook with!
Recipe: Foraged Garlic Mustard Pesto
Garlic mustard has a strong garlicky flavor. One of its best uses is to make pesto! It can be bitter. To reduce the bitterness, mix with kale, spinach and/or other wild greens (such as violet leaves).
- 2 cups of foraged garlic mustard leaves (and other mix of greens)
- 1/4 cups pine nuts or sunflower seeds or walnuts
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated
- A few squeeze of lemon juice
- In a food processor, pulse garlic mustard, nuts, and garlic until finely minced.
- While blending, pour in the olive oil and blend until smooth.
- Add sugar, salt, cheese, and lemon juice. Pulse until combined.
- Use as a dip or sauce for pasta.
Garlic mustard is an invasive species, it takes over areas and prevents important native plants from being able to grow. It also does not provide food or shelter for many animals. Picking garlic mustard is a way to help reduce the population and give native plants a chance. You can never overharvest garlic mustard. Once you pick whatever you need for eating, please pullup more plants by the roots. Happy picking!