Archive for June, 2009

Blog Party: Weeds of Summer

What a great idea!  Herbalist, Darcey Blue is hosting this blog party in which Herbalists post an article about their local Weeds of Summer.  All of the posts will be listed and linked on her blog, Gaia’s Gifts, on July 1st.  I am so excited, I’m just about to burst!  Local plants, especially edible and medicinal “weeds” are one of my favorite things!

Of course once I got started thinking about it, I came upon a big dilemma: which one weed do I choose?  There are so many great ones out there!  There’s dandelion (one of my totems, my tattoo, and in my top 5), burdock, chicory, jewelweed, plantain, and on and on and on.  So, I decided, why not go with the weediest weed I could think of, one of the weeds that is most exasperating to those purists out there: Garlic Mustard!

The one with the jagged edged heart shaped leaves

The one with the jagged edged heart shaped leaves

In flower

In flower

Around here (southern Ohio), they call Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) an invasive species.  The US National Arboretum states: “An invasive plant has the ability to thrive and spread aggressively outside its natural range.  A naturally aggressive plant may be especially invasive when it is introduced to a new habitat.  An invasive species that colonizes a new area may gain an ecological edge since the insects, diseases, and foraging animals that naturally keep its growth in check in its native range are not present in its new habitat.”

Native plant lovers goes nuts over garlic mustard, it is their nemesis.  They see it as their personal mission to eradicate every plant within miles.  Many times, I have gone on hikes and seen the wreckage of the ever popular “Garlic Mustard Pull:”  dead and dying plants everywhere you look.  A firm believer in plant spirits, it tends to bring about melancholy and regret for me.  It seems like these plants were pulled in vengeance, like their destroyers had a personal vendetta with the plants, with no respect for their life.  And not only that, but these plants which I believe have their own way of feeling, and could provide food and medicine, are pulled by the hundreds and just left to die on the side of the trail.  Okay, enough of my ranting.  So why do I feel so passionate about this weed?

Well, first a little bit more information.  Garlic mustard is in the Brassicaceae or Mustard family.  Other plants in this family include, of course, mustard greens, and cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, horseradish, etc.  Its genus is Allaria, similar to the genus, Allium, which garlic belongs to, because of its garlic-like smell and taste.  Consequently, it is highly edible!

Garlic mustard can be included in any dish as a green or garlic substitute.  It is great in stir fries, herb vinegars (especially used to make salad dressing), and  omelettes.   The flower bud looks like broccoli and tastes like a garlicy broccoli.  Good on salads and kids love to just pop it in their mouths while out hiking.

the broccoli-like bud

the broccoli-like bud

Probably my most favorite food made with garlic mustard, though, is pesto!

Here’s an interesting recipe I found on the Meet the Farmer Blog :

Garlic Mustard Pesto Recipe

4 cloves garlic

3 Tbs.garlic mustard taproot ground

¾ cup parsley

1 cup garlic mustard leaves

1 cup basil leaves

1 ½ cups olives, pitted

2 cups walnuts or pine nuts

½ cup yellow miso

1 ¼ cups olive oil

Blend all ingredients together to make a paste, leaving nuts coarsely

chopped. Use on your favorite pasta or spread on toast. Makes 4 cups.

Yum!  I often leave out the cheese, try other nuts (like macademias), etc.   I have seen recipes with only garlic mustard leaves and no roots or basil.  I like to add the basil, though.  The garlic mustard can get bitter, especially toward summer, when it starts to flower (the smaller and younger the leaves, the less bitter, too).  You can also add other wild greens, like chickweed or dandelion.

Garlic mustard can often be found when other plants can’t.  They have a lower freezing point, so they stick around during most of the winter.  And the garlic smell keeps insects away.  So look for the abundant stands in any woodsy area.

On to the therapeutic benefits!  The leaves can  be eaten to promote sweating to clear colds and respiratory type infections.    They can also be ingested to help with bronchitis, asthma, and eczema.   For external use, the leaves can be made into a poultice for an astringent for ulcers, and anti-itching solution to insect bites and stings.  Or chop the roots, heat in oil, and apply to the chest for bronchitis relief.  The plant is also high in Vitamin C and helps clear parasites from the body.

Though it’s probably better to harvest garlic mustard in the spring and fall when it’s less bitter, I couldn’t resist writing about its merits.  Besides, it’s still growing in the summer, so why not take advantage of it, especially if you’re going to go ahead and pull it anyway.  I’m sure our ancestors didn’t hesitate to use anything for food or medicine any time of year.

That brings up another good point to close on.  Happy Summer Solstice!  This solstice was and often is thought to be the best time to harvest herbs.  It is the time of year when the energy of the plants is at its peak.  So take this opportunity to consciously forage or wildcraft some herbs.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to take a minute to give thanks for the abundance the plants offer for our taking.

Gratitude & Green Blessings!


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