If You Can’t Beat It, Eat It! How to Make Pesto from Garlic Mustard

By Kelsey Mattison, Marketing Coordinator 

Did you know? There’s a movement across the country, “Eat the Invaders,” working to fight invasive species, “one bite at at time.”  Here in the Northeast, we’ve got a handful of invasive plants, which native predators won’t eat, but are perfectly safe for humans. Even restaurants are popping up with menus designed around harvesting and cooking wild invasives.

Garlic mustard, a plant in the — you guessed it! — mustard family, may seem harmless, but is actually highly invasive and has become a widespread issue across most of the U.S. over the past century and a half. Originating in Europe and parts of Asia, experts believe it was brought to North America for medicinal and/or agricultural purposes in the mid 17th century.

The plant sprouts earlier than many native plants, and establishes quickly, often making it difficult for native plants to successfully establish for the season. It also releases compounds from its roots that prevent other native growth from sprouting. Many people pull and discard garlic mustard plants (but not in the compost pile!) to help control its spread. Some even hire professionals to remove the plant. Princeton Hydro has treated it on various project sites along with other invasive plants.

With high levels of vitamins A and C, zinc, carotenoids, and fiber, it’s a shame to let this invasive take up space in our trash. While invasive to landscapes, this wild plant is safe to eat, so long as it hasn’t been sprayed with any chemical treatments. Garlic mustard leaves can easily be added to sauces, salads, sautées, and more!

How to Harvest and Prepare Garlic Mustard for Cooking:
  1. Correctly identify the garlic mustard plant in your landscape — the rough-toothed leaves and garlic odor when crushed are giveaways.
  2. Assure that it has not been amended/treated by local landscapers or public works.
  3. Make sure there’s no poison ivy growing with it.
  4. Pull up the plant by the roots, making sure not to scatter the seeds as you pull.
  5. Bag the plant to avoid spreading the seeds in transport.
  6. When you’re ready to cook, cut off the leaves.
  7. Discard the stalk and roots in a sealed bag for disposal.
  8. Wash or soak the leaves in water and pat dry.
  9. Start cooking!
Recipe FOR GARLIC MUSTARD PESTO:

1 cup of garlic mustard leaves

2 cloves of garlic

1 cup of basil leaves

¼ cup of walnuts or pine nuts

1 cup of olive oil

½ cup of shredded Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon of maple syrup

1 lemon (squeeze in fresh juice to taste)

Before you start, make sure to thoroughly rinse the garlic mustard and pat dry.

Combine garlic mustard, basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor or blender. Pulse until the ingredients are loosely chopped. Next, add the vinegar, maple syrup, and olive oil and blend until it is smooth. Finally, add the Parmesan cheese and lemon juice to taste. Blend again until smooth. Finally, add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour pesto over pasta, spread on toast, use as a marinade, or do whatever else you’d do with a delicious sauce!

For more information on other edible invasive species, visit Eat the Invaders‘ website.

Kelsey Mattison is Princeton Hydro’s Marketing Coordinator and a recent graduate of St. Lawrence University with a degree in English and environmental studies and a passion for environmental communication. Through her extracurricular work with various nonprofit organizations, she has developed expertise in social media management, content writing, storytelling, and interdisciplinary thinking. In her free time, Kelsey enjoys dancing of all sorts, going on long walks with her camera, and spending time with friends and family in nature.

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About phadmin

Princeton Hydro was formed in 1998 with the specific mission of providing integrated ecological and engineering consulting services. Offering expertise in aquatic and terrestrial ecology, water resources engineering, and geotechnical investigations, our staff provides a full suite of environmental services. Our team has the skill sets necessary to conduct highly comprehensive assessments; develop and design appropriate, sustainable solutions; and successfully bring those solutions to fruition. As such, our ecological investigations are backed by detailed engineering analyses, and our engineering solutions fully account for the ecological and environmental attributes and features of the project site. We take great pride in our reputation with both clients and regulators for producing high-quality projects over a wide variety of service areas; doing so requires a highly skilled team committed to keeping abreast with current research, technology and regulations. Our capabilities are reflected in our award-winning projects that consistently produce real-world, cost-effective solutions for even the most complex environmental problems.

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