We’re having beautiful weather here, in Scotland. And according to our regional news, it’s been the warmest February in 122 years! It’s no wonder the spring plants have sprung so much earlier than usual! Weather aside, I’m aware that for the past couple of weeks I’ve been promising you a post on garlic mustard. And, as it happens, the timing couldn’t be better to forage for this delicious plant.
So, lets get started… Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), is a biennial plant, which means it has a 2 year growth cycle, and it’s rich in nutrients. It also belongs to the mustard family of plants and generally grows to around knee height. Look out for it in shady, damp areas, such as woodlands, hedgerows and waste ground. During the 2nd year of its growth, it sheds its seeds and the cycle begins all over again. Of course, if you’re a lover of garlic, you’ll love this tasty plant.
As is the case with many wild plants, garlic mustard has a bit of an identity crisis! And depending on where you live, you might know of it under any one of the following names:
- Garlic Mustard
- Jack by the Hedge
- Poor Man’s Garlic
- Hedge Garlic
You should also be aware that the whole plant is edible, even the roots. On the negative side however, garlic mustard is highly invasive. But this does mean you can harvest the entire plant without worry. In fact, you’ll be doing the area you harvest it from a huge favour. Because of it’s highly invasive nature it takes over, displaces and suffocates many other wonderful wild plants. Consequently, harvesting it helps other flora and fauna to grow and flourish.
Garlic Mustard or Ground Ivy?
During its first year, garlic mustard grows in leafy, rosette like clusters and doesn’t produce flowers. However, at this stage of its growth, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for ground ivy. For example, they have similar heart/kidney shaped, scalloped leaves and both grow close to the ground. But, that said, you just have to pick a leaf, crush it between your fingers and then smell the heady garlicky aroma to know you have the right plant. Although, on closer inspection, you’ll see that the garlic mustard leaf has a coarser finish than a ground ivy leaf and a different leaf print.
Along comes year 2 and garlic mustard begins to showcase small white, cross shaped flowers which grow in small clusters. At this stage of growth it’s often mistaken for dead nettles. But again, picking a leaf and smelling it will give you a positive id. Another thing to look out for, during this stage of growth, are its long seed pods. These will eventually begin to show around mid summer. Whenever you squeeze 2 fingers along the length of the pod you’ll extract the tiny seeds. As a result, you’ll have the main ingredient for a very tasty mustard!
And if that isn’t enough, you can also pull up the roots, either in early spring or late autumn. Once you get them home, give them a good clean, chop them up and then bung them in your food processor! And vavavoom, as if by magic, you have a lovely, spicy tasting horseradish(y) sauce. You can use this sauce as you would normal horseradish. And, of course, lets not forget the flowers, which make a delicious addition to any summer salad.
And last, but by no means least, garlic mustard has some pretty amazing nutritional and mineral properties. Such as:
And if that isn’t enough to get you out foraging, then I have 4 great recipes to share with you on Friday, all featuring this wonderful wild plant…. Finally, if you don’t want to miss those recipes, then don’t forget to subscribe folks!
Until next time, take care and stay safe…