Sunday, April 3, 2011

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis)

Behold! One uniquely tasty community of Garlic Mustard! (At least from what I've heard/read about this plant's usual taste). It grows on a slope just above the narrow stream that runs past my house, partially shaded by a Chestnut tree.  It is slightly sweet and definitely garlicky, yet not so much that it offends the senses. I harvested a couple large handfuls, chopped them up coarsely and dropped them into my pot o' chilli the other night. Delicious. They added just a bit of garlic flavor and took the place of the kale or spinach I normally use. The mustard cooked up quickly, similar to how spinach would soften and shrink.

Brill describes Garlic Mustard as horribly bitter, as have several of my herbal friends. I believe this plant to just be young enough that it hasn't yet developed its bitterness - ah, we and plants share more attributes that we commonly realize. I took this pic about a week and a half ago, and as of the last couple of days, it has begun to form some tiny flower buds that resemble a small crown of broccoli (a typical form of the Mustard family). Now that these buds are forming, I do finally detect the slightest hint of bitter, but no where near that of a say, dandelion greens, even at their best.

Leaves have a scalloped margin, with a deeply heart-shaped base and a rounded apex (more mature leaves; the younger are more pointed) . They are palmately veined and have a sort of wrinkled appearance. Leaves are soft and thin. Veins (more so at the base), petioles and main stems have fine white hairs. The widest leaves on my plants are 4 1/2" across with sinuses (space between lobes) both 1" wide and almost 1" deep. However, the smallest leaves are just under 2" with proportionately smaller sinuses. When crushed, the odor of garlic is released.

I have seen Garlic Mustard along the MST just south of where it crosses Azalea Road in East Asheville, less than 0.1m after the cow pasture and overpass. These plants are not as large, however they have more plants to with which to compete. They share their space with a host of other edibles: Purple Dead Nettle, Purple Henbit, Wild Onion, Bitter Cress (I believe Cardamine Pensylvanica), Violets, and Chickweed. The largest patches of Garlic Mustard being at the base of a slope that leads up to the road (there's also a paved water run-off trench here that would funnel down lots of water) and in areas where the trees part, allowing more sunlight to the saturate the trail edges. Perhaps this area should be called Salad Slope!



  1. Hi Heather:

    hope you are managing to stay dry on this trek. Its Tue 5/3 where are you.

    All the best, aka filo addict

  2. Hey Barbara, thanks for asking! I have not yet left for the trail. My send off date is May 10th. However, with that storm that blew through here last night and the cold temps they've been having in the Smokies (29 degrees-eep!) I'm beginning to mentally prepare for having to "toughen up". It wouldn't work in the woods because of trees, but I am considering a small umbrella for the roads sections.

  3. Hi Heather,

    I am on the trails everyday spending time with the plants so I am very excited to find this site. I live in NC asheville, so we are seeing the same plants, There is a plant on this post, the second to the last one. I see that one alot (well I did) but don't know what it is. U didn't mention the name.
    I think it is very cool what u r doing