Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: invasive species

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!

Want to learn more about wild edibles? Check out my book, “Midwest Foraging!” Available online at Amazon.com.

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

Weedy & Edible: Garlic Mustard

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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.

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.