My springtime gardening activities have sadly been quite minimal so far this year. Between a groundhog, balancing life with a baby in the home again, and our nonstop schedule, the garden just hasn’t happened.
However, I’m not completely without yummy seasonal food. Foraging is filling in for my garden right now!
It’s really amazing to learn that so many plants I see pop up in my yard are deliciously edible. They are about as seasonal, local, frugal, and organic as possible, and I don’t have to do a thing to make them grow! Though often called weeds, I call them food.
Garlic mustard is one of those weeds. It’s a great plant to look for this time of the spring, and it is really delicious with a mildly garlic and peppery flavor. It’s also easy to spot and makes a fantastic pesto!
Finding and Identifying Garlic Mustard
When foraging, it’s crucial that you positively identify a plant before eating it. Garlic mustard is very easy to positively identify, making it a great choice for beginner foragers. Always be sure that you have permission to forage if you aren’t on your own land and that the ground is unsprayed.
Garlic mustard is actually an invasive plant in North America, so you don’t need to worry about over-harvesting it. Many nature centers even need help eradicating it so native species can thrive! Check with them if you can’t find unsprayed garlic mustard in your own yard.
I find garlic mustard on our small property around the base of trees and large bushes. It tends to grow in woodland areas. When I spy one tall stem of it, there are usually a few more right nearby. You can also spot it along wooded roadways, but this isn’t a good place to forage because of contamination.
When foraging for garlic mustard, look for tall, single, unbranched stems, round and a solid green color. The plants will be anywhere from 1 to slightly over 3 feet tall. The ones around our house are usually 1-2 feet.
Along the stem will be triangular leaves with very noticeable veins and deeply toothed edges. At the top of the plant there will be a cluster of small white flowers with four petals each. Depending on when you find the garlic mustard, it may also have lots of thin seedpods.
The giveaway for garlic mustard is the smell. The stems, leaves, and flowers smell like (take a guess…) garlic. If you aren’t sure whether or not you’ve found garlic mustard, just crush some of the plant in your hands and give it a sniff. If it has a mild garlic scent, you’ve got a winner.
Using Garlic Mustard
Garlic mustard is a great addition to salads and pasta dishes. The flavor is more pronounced when it is raw, so I prefer to eat it that way. My very favorite way to enjoy garlic mustard is in a pesto!
I like the flavor of garlic mustard when it just has its flowers and hasn’t developed any seed pods yet. The flavor becomes a little sharper once the seed pods start to form. You can try it both ways and see which you prefer.
Garlic Mustard Pesto
Garlic mustard pesto tastes surprisingly similar to the traditional basil recipe. It’s absolutely delicious! You can certainly add some fresh basil or other herbs along with the garlic mustard if you’d like.
- 1 cup washed and drained garlic mustard leaves, moderately packed
- 2 tablespoons other fresh herbs, like oregano, basil, or thyme (optional)
- 1 large garlic clove
- 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds (almonds, walnut, or traditional pine nuts may also be used)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Dash black pepper
- 1/2-1 cup extra virgin olive oil (I’m loving this brand! Affiliate link)
- Place all ingredients, using 1/2 cup off the olive oil, in a food processor.
- Turn on and process until smooth. You may need to stop and scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice.
- Check the consistency of your pesto and add more oil if desired, pulsing the processor to combine. I like this with the full cup of oil.
Serve with meat, over pasta, or as a bread dip. This makes about 1 cup, depending on how much oil you use.
Garlic mustard pesto tastes surprisingly similar to the traditional basil recipe. It’s absolutely delicious and a great way to use up this tasty, but invasive, plant species.
- 1 cup garlic mustard leaves washed, drained, and moderately packed
- 2 tbsp other fresh herb, like basil, oregano, or thyme optional
- 1 clove fresh garlic
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese shredded
- 2 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds or walnuts, pine nuts, or almonds
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- dash black pepper
- 1/2-1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients, using 1/2 cup of the olive oil, in a food processor.
Process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice if needed.
Check the consistency of your pesto and add more oil if desired, pulsing the food processor to combine.
Serve with meat, fish, poultry or vegetables, over pasta, or as a bread dip.
I made a yummy sourdough bread with garlic mustard in the dough, then dipped the bread into the pesto. It was scrumptious!
You might find it difficult to get a lot of gardening done with little ones and a busy family life. Garlic mustard lets you enjoy fresh food from the backyard with little work on your end. And native plants will thank you for removing it and giving them extra room to thrive!