Burdock & Rose

wildly-crafted plant tales from herbalist, forager & author lisa rose

The Dandy Lion of Spring

The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is much more than a weed — it is a healthful salad green and important herbal medicine.

As a food, dandelion should be included at the dinner table. Bitter greens such as dandelion help the stomach in digestion by increasing bile production. It’s a good spring habit to add handfuls of wild leaves to meals a few times a day, if possible.

Dandelions grow almost everywhere and are easy to find. In early spring when the weather is cool and moist, the rapidly growing leaves are tender for eating raw. Harvest the leaves with garden shears or by hand and gently clean them in the kitchen. Leaves are best when picked in the early morning.

Its nutrition, versatility, and abundance makes dandelion such an amazing plant medicine that it never ceases to amaze me why homeowners everywhere don’t allow the dandelion to take over the lawn. It truly is a wildly free medicinal!

As an herbal medicine, the dandelion flowers, leaves, and roots are useful to support digestion, the lymphatic system, and healthy urinary tract function. It is a perfect medicine that’s readily available and easy to find.

Dandelion root is a helpful metabolic tonic for the digestive system, where it helps digestion and absorption of minerals. Roast the root and prepare it in a tea or tincture to include as part of a digestive herbal blend. Dandelion root tea has an affinity for the urinary tract system and can be included as part of a protocol to support healthy urinary function when mixed with other plants such as cranberry and echinacea.

As a lymphatic herb, dandelion flowers can be used in a topical oil to massage over cystic and fibrous tissues. I like to use a dandelion flower oil massage to bring sunshine and vibrancy to tissues that may be stagnant and stuck, particularly the lymphatic breast and pectoral tissues below the armpits and the tender lymphatic tissues along the leg and groin regions.

Dandelion flower–infused oil works well with infused oils of calendula, plantain, and violet flowers and leaves. This gentle herb-infused oil is helpful for Maya abdominal massage (a well-known technique developed by naturopath Rosita Arvigo, based on her apprenticeship with Mayan healer Don Elijio Panti), and for massage for postpartum mothers.

Gathering Dandelion

In midspring, as the weather warms, pluck the flowers easily with your fingers. Because they are difficult to wash well, harvest flowers that are free from significant dust and debris.

Dandelions that grow in the shade will be more tender and sweet than those growing in direct sun. They will also bloom later. Leaves become significantly more bitter, dry, and rough after the dandelion goes to flower and seed and as the weather becomes warm in summer.

Dig the roots any time across the seasons. The soil quality and moisture determine whether the roots will be easy or difficult to remove. Use a hand-digging tool, and be careful not to break off the taproot midway. Both the crowns and roots will need a good brushing and scrubbing in the kitchen to remove excess soil.

PreOrder: Midwest Medicinal Plants

“Midwest Medicinal Plants”

“Midwest Medicinal Plants” (Timber Press, OR) is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Eat the Weeds: Garlic Mustard

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Garlic Mustard: An Edible, Bitter Green

Dandelion, parsley, arugula, romaine, radicchio, endive are all delicious, bitter greens of springtime that make perfect addition to salads!  Why do bitter flavors matter? Bitter flavors of plants, while having a negative connotation to many, may be one of the keys to our wellness.  Bitter flavors help stimulate digestion, bile production and can support healthy liver function.

While Garlic Mustard continues to persist throughout our Great Lakes bioregion and threatens to crowd-out wildflowers and native vegetation, let us consider one of its virtues:  It is an edible, bitter green. Harvest away, be sure to replace the area with other plants native to the area to help reestablish the disturbed space and prevent another Garlic Mustard Invasion (that could be a band name, hehe).

Garlic Mustard Pesto

One of the most popular ways to prepare Garlic Mustard is preparing it as a versatile, delicious pesto. Variations on pesto recipes can vary to suit personal taste preference and the flavor of the Garlic Mustard that is being harvested.

Want to prepare a large batch? Pesto can be made without the nuts (they tend to taste rancid after thawing) and froze into ice-cube sized portions that will last for several months until the local Basil is ready for harvest here in Michigan.

The pesto can be added to pasta, used in soups (like a French soup au pistou), served on crackers with cheese as an elegant appetizer, or even used as a base for a wild foods pizza of local Michigan Morels, homemade soft cheese, and wild onion.

Recipe: Foraged Greens & Garlic Mustard Pesto

4 cups leaves, stems of Garlic Mustard (washed)

1 cup wild chives

1 cup wild garlic scapes

1 cup parsley (if desired)

1 cup walnuts

4 TBSP coconut oil

1tsp sea salt, pepper, squirt of lemon juice to taste

Add all to food processor, puree.  Check flavor, add parsley, salt, pepper to preferred taste. Serve over crackers, on pizza, pasta, soup… the ideas are limitless and the pesto can be used in similar ways to traditional basil pesto.

The Rise of Garlic Mustard

What is the adage, “A weed is a plant that is growing where you don’t want it?” Abundant in areas of disturbed soil – at the forest’s edge, along roadsides, and on river floodplains – the Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata, Brassicaceae) is deemed by many as a noxious, invasive species, choking out native vegetation and spreading wildly across the state.

The Roots of Garlic Mustard

The National Park Service describes the earliest appearance of the Garlic Mustard on the Atlantic coast to be documented in 1868. High in Vitamin C and a nutritious bitter green, it is believed that it was brought along by settlers to the area of Long Island, NY for food and medicinal purposes.

Since that time in the 1800s, Garlic Mustard has spread south and west and has wrecked havoc on natural areas throughout the Eastern United States, particularly throughout disturbed areas within fields, floodplains, and woodlands here in the Great Lakes BioRegion.

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What makes Garlic Mustard able to take over so much area in so little time? Garlic Mustard thrives on disturbed land and areas under development.

The Garlic Mustard Invasion

It is winter-hardy biennial plant and can reproduce lightning fast in its second year with its ability to produce hundreds of seeds once it goes to flower. And once the plant sets its seed, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years.  So if you want it out, pull it as it sets out its showy white flowers (photo above).

Picking Garlic Mustard for the Best Flavor

The early basal roots are more bitter in the spring, the fleshy stems less so – and it is sweeter in the fall after a frost. The roots are slightly nutty, and the second year plant should be harvested just before it flowers… But don’t get caught up in these rules — if you are pulling it to preserve other plants in your garden or a participating in a pull, use it and partner it with other flavors like parsley, walnuts and lemon to suit your palate!

Making Chai Magical with Chaga

Weather’s changing. Glad for a warm hearth, food on my stove and a pantry & apothecary full of ways to keep me & my family healthy this winter. Counting my blessings.

With the cold, damp weather upon us, one of my most favorite warming drinks is Chai. I like my chai so many different ways — with boiled coffee, with Lapsang Seuchong tea for a nice smoky flavor. With good, rich raw organic milk and honey.

My chai is a basic Masala Chai and varies depending on my mood or what I have on hand.  Masala means blend, and that makes me feel good about never really being strict on what goes into the pot. It allows me to tailor it as I wish.

Chai, on the whole, is a wonderful beverage that can help move circulation to the fingers and toes. It is perfect for this time of year once the weather turns colder. If you are headed outside, drink Chai when you come back in to quickly warm up those extremities. As someone who is chronically cold, this is a great way to warm up (that, and making sure I get enough fats in my diet!!).

Funny enough, I never had many warming aromatic spicy drinks in my house growing up as a child. I don’t ever remember having ginger in the house or chilies … and gosh, maybe never even fresh garlic, now that I think of it. Ah, life as a caucasian child in West Michigan in the 80s… These are all herbs I’ve come to appreciate from my own culinary and herbal learnings as an adult. But I digress. That’s all for another post.

It wasn’t until I moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area that really began drinking Chai (REAL chai — not the stuff in the box that became popular in the late 90s). I learned how to first make chai while volunteering at Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley… and somewhere I have that recipe that will serve 30.  I’ve adapted that recipe over the past 12 years (below), and now I can easily make just a pot of chai on the stove for myself while working at home or for visiting friends and clients.  You will find my recipe is written in a way that it can be easily scaled for any size group.

Making Chai Magical with Chaga. One of the most delicious ingredients I’ve been adding to my chai lately (as well to coffee, soups, bone broths, and sauces) is Chaga mushroom. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungus that grows out of the wounds of birch trees (Betula spp). It grows across the northern hemisphere in forests with the Birch tree, and can be found here in the woods of the Great Lakes where the birch trees are plentiful.

Location & Foraging. I haven’t had much luck finding Chaga in the immediate Grand Rapids area, so I usually head north to forage it, where it grows aplenty. Some local folks have also said that it’s abundant along the lakeshore in West Michigan — though while growing up, I cannot ever remember that being one of the mushrooms we hunted for growing up (that’s not to say it isn’t there — I am sure it is). Bring along a mallet or small hammer to help get the Chaga from the tree. It’s harder than you might think. Be sure to thank the tree when harvesting always…

Because chaga is becoming popular and has been qualified as a locavore superfood, sustainable and careful harvesting of the fungus is important. Practice mindful harvesting techniques and do not remove the entire fruiting body from the tree to ensure that the chaga will continue to grow and mature for future harvests. It can take up to a decade for chaga to regrow to a harvestable size.

Uses. I was first introduced to Chaga as it’s used in herbal medicine by herbalist and friend Jim McDonald, and fell in love with the taste, smell and texture of Chaga when I first experienced herbalist Margi Flint’s skin cream. Because of it’s history of use for cell regeneration and support for the immune system, I learned from Flint that she incorporates the Chaga into foods, teas, beverages, and into that skin cream of her’s. Not only have I fallen in love adding Chaga to all sorts of foods, but I have had fantastic luck with making herbal variations of Margi’s Chaga Cream to support the skin’s ability to regenerate healthy skin cells and ward off melanoma.

Taste. Chaga has this rich flavor profile not all that dissimilar to a dark chocolate. It pairs well adding it to boiled coffee, pasta sauces, chili recipes, mole sauces, peanut butter & chocolate smoothies and ice cream and chai.  Imagine slathering yourself with this wonderful emmolient cream that smells of chocolate and feels so nourishing… Oh, I digress again. That cream recipe is for another post.

Processing. To get the most from this mushroom, it needs to be powdered and ground, and then its medicine is best extracted in a long simmering decoction in water to make a tea.

Processing is super easy if you just go online and order pre-powdered Chaga from a reputable mushroom source. I have had great experience with Mushroom Harvest and highly recommend their products.  Not so easy if you are foraging your own Chaga.

If you forage your own fresh Chaga off the Birch tree, Chaga is nearly impossible to process without the use of heavy stone tools, a hammer, and — I most recently l learned — a wood rasp to grind it down to a beautifully fine powder for infusions.

Don’t put whole Chaga pieces in your blender or spice grinder as it most likely will burn out your motor and screw up your blade (trust me on this one). If you are smashing it up, take care to use a sizable, durable mortar and pestle (once broken down into larger chunks).  Some say to remove the blackened exterior shell of the mushroom, but I just use the whole thing. You might want to wear protective eye-wear, too, lest you want chunks of flying Chaga in your eyeball (Safety first, right?).

Preparation. To make a Chaga infusion, add 1 part ground/powdered mushroom to 10 parts boiling water and then simmer for 20 minutes for a long extraction. Strain and consume. Make stovetop boiled coffee with it (yum). The infusion can be frozen for future use to cook foods like pastas, grains, nourishing infusions and bone broths. It can also be used as the waters in a cream recipe if you make your own skin cream.

The ground/powdered mushroom ~can~ also be added directly to a sauce or soup or smoothie (take care, though there are no large bits, lest you want to break a tooth by surprise). Some suggest a double extraction if you wish to make a tincture from a tea, but I haven’t used it this way and am not sure of the ratios. For my Chai, I add the ground mushroom to the final simmer of the herbs in the water. Or an infusion can be used to simmer the aromatics.

Lisa’s Masala Chai:

Masala Aromatics (for 2 quarts of Chai):

1 TBSP cinnamon

1 TBSP coriander

1 TBSP cloves

1/2 TBSP cumin

1/4 TBSP cardamon

1/4TBSP black pepper

1/4 TBSP dry ginger

I toss all these ingredients into an iron skillet and slightly toast them on the stove. I let the blend cool and add a dash of nutmeg, then grind when ready to make Chai. Because I make large batches of roasted Masala blend, I store it in a glass jar and then use about 5 tablespoons of herbs to grind and then make into Chai.   Pro-tip: This is the same blend you can use to make a Masala vegetable dishes. So it’s good to have a large batch on hand for more than just chai.. 😉

Simmering the Chai:

Add the Masala Blend, 2 TBSP of ground Chaga to a pot and cover with 2 quarts boiling water, simmer for 20 minutes. For a bit more local flavor, add in a few tablespoons of local SpiceBush Berries if you have some.

Remove from heat and add black tea (I like Lapsang Seuchong) if you wish. If your tea is added as loose leaf, I suggest that you strain the Chai into a thermos or teapot after about 2 minutes (the tea can turn your Chai very tannic if left to steep too long). If using a tea ball, just remove the tea after a few minutes.

Sweeten the entire pot or by the glass with real maple syrup or honey. Yum. Add milk, too, if you like. Sip. Enjoy.

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Resources:

Processing Chaga video: I came across this interesting YouTube Video and thought I’d share. It demonstrates the use of a rasp.

More on Chaga from another Michigan WildCrafter

Kiva’s Chai Musings

Double extraction process for making a tincture with Chaga

For other Chai recipe ideas: FoodIly

To order bulk organic herbs, I frequently recommend Mountain Rose Herbs

Herbal First Responders: Cold & Flu Care

 

Lisa M. Rose in a field of wildflowers in Millineum Park.

Gathering wild bee balm for my well-known Gypsy Tea.

Sometimes when you feel a cold or a flu coming on, it’s easy to brush it off and keep pushing ahead. But when that little voice tells you that your body has caught a virus, heed its warning!  Learning when and how to use popular herbal remedies can help you prevent from getting stuck at the corner of sick and miserable!

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Plant medicines like elderberry can help shorten the lifespan of a virus — If you know when and how to use them! If you listen to your body’s call, and try preparations of elderberry elixir within the first 48 hours of the start of a virus, medical research shows that symptoms that come from colds and flus can be lessened by as much as 4 days. (1) Now, that doesn’t mean you can just chug elderberry elixir and NOT rest. Of course not. Resting is a crucial part to the body’s healing process.

But how does elderberry work? Elderberry is not only filled with antioxidants and flavonoids useful for the body, but it stimulates the body’s inflammation response against the virus. By triggering the production of cytokines – the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory agents that regulate the body’s immune system – elderberry powers the immune system which then inhibits the virus’ ability to reproduce. (2)

Elderberry is most commonly prepared as a syrup of the fresh or dry berries. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) syrup is easy to make (RECIPE FEATURED IN RODALE’s ORGANIC LIFE), but if you don’t have time, make a trip to your local health food shop to stock up, or better yet – support this local herbalist by stocking up with her elderberry elixir blends!! (Hint, hint) So at those first signs of illness – down that elderberry syrup in large tablespoon doses!

 

Gypsy Tea: Echinacea, Mints, Yarrow & Elderflower

While downing tablespoons of elderberry when I start to get sick, you will also find me making pots of my favorite tea traditionally known as Gypsy Tea- a formula that goes back generations. Gypsy Tea is a tea blend of aromatic mints (I prefer the wild bee balm, Monarda fistulosa), the bitter yarrow, and the relaxant elderflowers. I also add in echinacea for its additional immune boosting power, and sometimes garden herbs like sage and thyme for extra aromatics.

Gypsy Tea is also a great base in which to add honey and your elderberry elixir!To make your own Gypsy Tea, these herbs can be foraged from the wild, or you can procure your own herbs from a reputable forager or an online source like Mountain Rose Herbs.

Gypsy Tea Ingredients:

1 Part Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

2 Parts Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

2 Parts Bee Balm (Monarda spp) or Peppermint

1 Part Echinacea (Echiancea spp)

Directions: Add herbal ingredients to a french press or directly to a pot of boiling water. Cover, let steep for 5 minutes and drink hot. And like Grandma always says, Put on a hat!  Cover the body, keep it warm, take to bed and REST. If you really are feeling crummy, consider making a large thermos of tea to keep hot by the bedside – this will help you to stay in bed and support the body’s immune system as it works on staying well.

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Even herbalists get sick.

It’s easy to forget how to care for yourself once a virus settles in and your body begins to ache. Be prepared! Have on hand the ingredients you need to care for yourself allows your body to rest and fight off the virus. And remember to have a backup friend to rely on when you are at the corner of sick and miserable – even if it’s your golden retriever.

For more tips on making a plan for Cold & Flu season, click HERE.

A Few Other Good Links & Resources:

– Darcey Blue on Flu

– Todd Caldecott’s Ayurvedic approach to Colds & Flu 

–  7 Song’s Materia Medica for Colds & Flu

— Paul Bergner on Vitamin D

Footnotes:

1)  “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.

2) “The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines” Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6

Wild Summer Refreshments: Sumac “Lemonade”

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In the middle of a hot and steamy July, there’s nothing like a tall glass of refreshing lemonade. But here in the Midwest, lemons aren’t local… but guess what? You can make that pitcher of lemonade – or a copycat “lemonade” without the lemons while using the staghorn sumac berries instead!

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Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina

“What,” you say? Lemonade without lemons??? Well, ok, so sumac “lemonade” would more appropriately be called a tea. But that’s besides the point… Infused in cold water overnight, the sumac berries of Rhus glabra and Rhus typhina make a great-tasting, refreshing sour and citrus-like beverage that is delicious on its own or simply sweetened with honey and garnished with lavender for an extra herbal flavor.

Common in hedgerows and at the edges of the field are the staghorn and smooth sumac (Rhus typhina and Rhus glabra respectively). Both sumacs are common native shrubs whose flower clusters ripen into deep red fruit clusters toward the end of July and into early September. For more tips on identifying sumac, get a copy of my book, Midwest Foraging to take with you into the fields! 

The berries – or drupes in botanical language – taste sour like lemonade. Use hand pruners to gather the drupes into a bucket, choosing the clusters that are most bright in color and most uniformly red. In the kitchen, separate the red and sour drupes from the stems – be warned there may be a scattering of small bugs as you sort the plants.

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To prepare: Pack the drupes into a jar and cover them with cold water. Let them soak for a day or so in the fridge. Strain the liquid into a serving pitcher and voila – a delicious pink lemonade! Serve cold over ice and garnish with sprigs of lavender.

To see my TV segment on Staghorn Sumac Lemonade and easy tips for foraging with kids, visit WZZM13 Online: Staghorn Sumac.

Foodservice from 35000 Feet

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Big Visions for Large Scale Agriculture

On a plane to Monterey. From 35,000 feet above the ground, I think about the stories of the farms below and the food that’s being grown for my table.

From this vantage point I cannot see the soil, rocks, insects, microbes, or the cover crops that shield the plants along the ground. I can’t see the grazing animals and the grasses that feed the cattle. I cannot see the hands of the people tending the plants or the trucks carrying them to market for sale.

But I can see the interrelationship of the farms to the landscape- the mountains, the rivers, the dams.

From this viewpoint, I can see the wind shadow that creates the dry areas of prairie. I can see the verdant green that runs along the riverbanks and the wind farms turning to a cadence of the wind flow to produce energy.

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Traveling to the Salinas Valley

As I travel to California to tour the farms of the Monterey coastline, I think about the complex systems we have in place to deliver food in large scale from the farm to the table. I think of the sustainability of these systems, and the opportunities for innovation that can come from companies like Gordon Food Service that I am working for now in my daytime work.

In my knapsack I carry 20 years of academic and professional experience in food systems. I’ve travelled a delicious journey over these 20 years. This Monterey trip will add another layer to my food systems understanding – this time from the perspective of a food service broadliner.

I plan to learn from our farmers, to draw insights how we can -as North America’s oldest, family owned and managed broadline food service company – highlight the value we bring to the table of our customers every day. To tell the story of what goes into the growing of our Markon brand of produce.

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Digging Deeper: Future of Foodservice

But I want to go deeper to understand what the potential is – as a private corporation – to shape a food system that is sustainable for the next generation. How we can create a demand for food that is grown in a way that hedges the challenges we face in agriculture in regards to land, water, oil, and labor.

Through our market endeavors, I believe that we can translate our Company’s values to grow a food system infrastructure that is good for people and the planet.

Our customers are demanding more from their farmers and suppliers. They want not only freshness and value, but know that the food’s been grown in a healthy manner for people and planet. I believe we can deliver on this challenge.

I look forward to seeing how this story unfolds. I’m betting it will be delicious. Our future as humans and planet depend on it. 

Eat the Weeds: Strawberry-Knotweed Pie


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Yup I said it. Pie.

Who said foraging and eating wild edibles was all about tree barks in tea and wild and bitter leaves in salads?? Us foragers also love a really yummy PIE! {which that’s not to discount the barks or bitters, btw}.

We all know and love a good strawberry-rhubarb pie in the month of June, when the wild berries are ripe or are getting big and juicy in the garden. But did you know that the invasive Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) can be transformed into a delicious strawberry pie with a similar flavor?

Japanese knotweed is at the top of nearly all of the invasive plant “Most Wanted” lists. It has virtually no known predator, other than foragers, to keep its spread in check. The Japanese knotweed spreads voraciously, lining ditches, streambeds, and woodland fields where there is damp soil. To find a stand of the Japanese knotweed, look for tall stalks left from the previous year as their woody, jointed stems last well into the next season. 

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Large stands of Japanese knotweed are fast growing and can reach heights of over 10 feet tall.

The perennial Japanese knotweed’s woody, bamboo-like leafy stalks grow in dense stands, towering in heights up to 10 feet. The new shoots emerge in early spring and are hollow and jointed with red flecks at the joints along the stem. The leaves are heart-shaped, bright green, and arranged alternately along the stem. The plant goes to flower in late summer into early fall, producing feathery clusters of dainty white blossoms.

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The tender stalks of Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) are best gathered in the spring and then stripped of leaves and used in pies, compotes and fruit jams.

The early spring shoots are crunchy with a tart, citrusy flavor similar to that of spring rhubarb. Its bright flavors make for a tart simple syrup, good for use in cocktail recipes. The larger stalks can be prepared as you would use rhubarb (unless you are cooking them, then the stalks soften significantly) in summer fruit compotes, jams, or pies. Because the fruit ripens much later than when you harvest Japanese knotweed, its stalks can be chopped and then frozen for later use.

While delicious and edible, many landscape companies and parks management protocols include using agressive herbicides on the plant to stunt its growth. So, be sure the area where you harvest hasn’t been treated with an herbicide meant to eradicate the plant. Look at surrounding vegetation for visible signs of plant burn, or ask the landowner or park manager about herbicide treatment.

One of my favorite Japanese knotweed & berry combo is in a strawberry rhubarb pie. While the strawberries from the garden aren’t ready yet here in the Midwest, the addition of the invasive Japanese knotweed was a delightful “re-wilding” of the grocery-store berries of May coming in from down south and out west (do choose organic – it matters!!).

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A Forager’s Strawberry-Knotweed Pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend ingredients in a mixing bowl for the filling and add to the prepared pie pan. Bake for 50 minutes until the filling begins to gel and the crust turns a golden brown. Serve with heaping spoonfuls of whipping cream, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream. Garnish with lavender blossoms for a delightful herbal top note.

You will need: 

(1) 9″ pie pan and crust, pan buttered

For filling: 

4 cups strawberries

2 cups trimmed Japanese knotweed stalks

3/4 cups white sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 tsp salt

Go Green with Garlic Mustard Pesto

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What is the adage, “A weed is a plant that is growing where you don’t want it?” Abundant in areas of disturbed soil – at the forest’s edge, along roadsides, and on river floodplains – the Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata, Brassicaceae) is deemed by many as a noxious, invasive species, choking out native vegetation and spreading wildly across the state.

The National Park Service describes the earliest appearance of the Garlic Mustard on the Atlantic coast to be documented in 1868. High in Vitamin C and a nutritious bitter green, it is believed that it was brought along by settlers to the area of Long Island, NY for food and medicinal purposes.  Since that time in the 1800s, Garlic Mustard has spread south and west and has wrecked havoc on natural areas throughout the Eastern United States, particularly throughout disturbed areas within fields, floodplains, and woodlands here in the Great Lakes BioRegion.

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What makes Garlic Mustard able to take over so much area in so little time? Garlic Mustard thrives on disturbed land and areas under development.

It is winter-hardy biennial plant and can reproduce lightning fast in its second year with its ability to produce hundreds of seeds once it goes to flower. And once the plant sets its seed, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years.  So if you want it out, pull it as it sets out its showy white flowers (photo above).

Be sure to replace the area with other plants native to the area to help reestablish the disturbed space and prevent another Garlic Mustard Invasion (that could be a band name, hehe).

Behind Every Vice… The Garlic Mustard’s Virtue

While Garlic Mustard continues to persist throughout our Great Lakes bioregion and threatens to crowd-out wildflowers and native vegetation, let us consider one of its virtues:  It is edible!

Like many early spring greens, the flavors of the Garlic Mustard are predominantly bitter. Different parts of the plant, as well the age of the plant can affect the degree in the bitter flavor.

Great Lakes Herbalist Jim McDonald believes that the Bitter flavors of plants, while having a negative connotation to many, may be one of the keys to our wellness.  Bitter flavors help stimulate digestion, bile production and can support healthy liver function.

Other bitter plants that are beneficial to add into the diet include parsley, arugula, romaine, radicchio, endive, dandelion, and coffee. Best thing about Garlic Mustard as a bitter – it can be easily harvested for FREE with little concern of damaging its plant population!

The early basal roots are more bitter in the spring, the fleshy stems less so – and it is sweeter in the fall after a frost. The roots are slightly nutty, and the second year plant should be harvested just before it flowers… But don’t get caught up in these rules — if you are pulling it to preserve other plants in your garden or a participating in a pull, use it and partner it with other flavors like parsley, walnuts and lemon to suit your palate!

One of the most popular ways to prepare Garlic Mustard is preparing it as a versatile, delicious pesto. Variations on pesto recipes can vary to suit personal taste preference and the flavor of the Garlic Mustard that is being harvested.

Want to prepare a large batch? Pesto can be made without the nuts (they tend to taste rancid after thawing) and froze into ice-cube sized portions that will last for several months until the local Basil is ready for harvest here in Michigan.

The pesto can be added to pasta, used in soups (like a French soup au pistou), served on crackers with cheese as an elegant appetizer, or even used as a base for a wild foods pizza of local Michigan Morels, homemade soft cheese, and wild onion.

Basic Foraged Greens & Garlic Mustard Pesto

4 cups leaves, stems of Garlic Mustard (washed)

1 cup wild chives

1 cup wild garlic scapes

1 cup parsley (if desired)

1 cup walnuts

4 TBSP coconut oil

1tsp sea salt, pepper, squirt of lemon juice to taste

Add all to food processor, puree.  Check flavor, add parsley, salt, pepper to preferred taste. Serve over crackers, on pizza, pasta, soup… the ideas are limitless and the pesto can be used in similar ways to traditional basil pesto.

The Herbalist’s Line

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I’ve been in-house blending organic teas at The Spice Merchants in Grand Rapids as their resident herbalist. My favorite combos are now located right there at the shop under “The Herbalist’s Line.”

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I also have some of my own wildcrafted, Burdock & Rose herbals in stock at the Grand Rapids location, as well as my book, “Midwest Foraging.” I’m pretty delighted to work with the Spice Merchants – it harkens back to the family business in Flint – my Grandfather’s wholesale tea and coffee business: Mack Tea & Coffee.

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You will see me around the DT Market every so often, working alongside their great staff answering herbal questions. I’ll try to get better at announcing when I’ll be around so you can stop by!

In the meantime, be well and drink tea!