Monday, April 6, 2015

Presto, Garlic Mustard Pesto!

Cleavers (Galium aparine) and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis)
It is official...the wild edible greens are growing! Each day, a new shoot seems to emerge from the cold soil and a fresh flower face opens to greet the sun. I greet each warmly and then grab a pair of garden clippers. Now is the time to cut back on buying the salad greens and herbs that have traveled from across the country packaged in so much plastic your recycling bin is filled in minutes, to rather, opening your back door and wandering out into the backyard to harvest some green morsels.

Harvested Garlic Mustard laying in wait for the blender
I've been particularly busy this week preparing for a clip on Carolina Kitchen to promote my talk "Eat Local: Identifying the Wild Edible Plants in Your Own Backyard" and book signing at the Mother Earth News Fair this coming weekend 4/11. It will be airing at noon on April 8th, so be sure to catch it (I'll also be posting a link here after airing) for a demonstration on how to make your own Purple Dead Nettle Pesto. However this pesto recipe also works well with Garlic Mustard, a well known, often times loathed, weed.

Garlic Mustard begins as a basal rosette in its first year, growing just 6-8" tall, however in its second year it can grow up to 3 feet with stalked, alternate, heart-shaped leaves with scalloped margins and four-petaled white flowers. Before the flowers open they resemble little heads of broccoli , which is not surprising given that Garlic Mustard and Broccoli share the same family, Brassicaceae.

Garlic Mustard flower buds
 Garlic Mustard is so invasive for the same reason as most other invasives, it is non-native, introduced from Europe, and therefore does not have its native insects or fungi that would normally go to work keeping its populations in check. However, it also has another advantage in its ability to produce allelochemicals, which suppress mycorrhizal fungi that other plants require for optimal growth (fungi help to break down and transport nutrients to the roots of most plants). Interestingly enough, these same chemicals do not affect the mycorrhizal fungi that would be in Garlic Mustard's native habitat. Also, although deer like a whole lotta greens, they are picky eaters when it comes to Garlic Mustard. Instead they happily mow down or trample every other plant, carefully eating around Garlic Mustard, giving it not only more space to proliferate but also working its seeds into the freshly "tilled" soil.

However instead of making enemies with Garlic Mustard which is certainly not going anywhere, why not make pesto with it? Or add it to your eggs, or salads, or wraps, or gazpacho for that matter?

Garlic Mustard Pesto tossed with orzo pasta, cherry tomatoes, and black olives
As you would expect, its greens, flowers, and flower buds taste of both garlic and mustard, but with a hint of bitter, which increases after it flowers and with age. Garlic Mustard's roots are also edible, tasting strongly of horseradish. Archeological digs show evidence that this pest was actually a beloved food plant in Europe for thousands of years before we decided we needed to kick it out of our gardens to make room for less hardy plants, so lets at least make use of it since its laid its claim on our lawns.

Garlic Mustard Pesto
3 c of packed Garlic Mustard Greens
3-4 Garlic Mustard roots diced (optional)
3/4 c of olive oil
3/4 c walnuts
3 cloves garlic
1/2 c parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Combine greens, roots, walnuts, and garlic in a blender or food processor to combine, gradually adding olive oil to desired consistency. Add parmesan cheese to combine and, salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 2 c pesto
Toss with your favorite pasta, spread atop a pizza, or smear on a wrap with veggies and cheese.

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