Edible Plants of New York: Why I think garlic-mustard is one of the best underestimated superfoods

Garlic-mustard is one of my favorite plants. A great resource to learn more about local plants in northeast North America, is GoBotany! Here is some ways that the organization describes garlic-mustard:

Latin name: Alliaria petiolata (Bieb.) Cavara & Grande

Facts: Garlic-mustard is an invasive species originating in Eurasia and rapidly spreading through much of North America. It was originally imported in the nineteenth century as a kitchen garden herb and salad green. The leaves, which have a sharp, garlic-like flavor, can be eaten raw or boiled. It is most aggressive in roadsides and shady, moist, rich forests, and may form dense colonies.

Habitat: Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), floodplain (river or stream floodplains), forest edges, forests

Flower petal color: white

Leaf type: the leaves are simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)

Beyond describing the plant in this way, i’ll share with you how I consume garlic-mustard. Two ways I enjoy eating garlic-mustard is in smoothies and in pesto.

In smoothies, I’ll gather the greens and place them into the blender. I add coconut milk, wild blueberries, green bananas, more herbs, olive oil, almond butter, etc,.

In pesto, one needs only to replace the cultivated garlic clove (technically a bulb) with a large handful of garlic-mustard leaves. All parts of the plant are edible, so feel free to add in the stem and the flowers!

Moving on, according to Hayley et. al, in their 2013 paper, called “Phytoliths in Pottery Reveal the Use of Spice in European Prehistoric Cuisine”, there is evidence found in the pottery of the Late Mesolithic Ertebølle culture and the Early Neolithic Funnel Beaker culture.

The Ertebølle culture comes the southern Scandavia area, in the time period of 5,300 B.C.E. — 3,950 B.C.E. The Mesolithic is a time period where agriculture generally wasn’t developed yet. People in the Ertebølle culture were mainly hunter-gatherer’s and fishing people. I find it validating that these people were cooking garlic-mustard over 5,000 years ago.

Finding any information on Google Scholar about the health benefits of garlic-mustard is a challenge, given the bias and rhetoric around calling this plant an “invasive”.

However, we know that plants in the Brassicaceae family (and garlic-mustard is in it) are full of anti-cancer compounds. Go ahead and look for yourself!

I was able to find from Plants for a Future, a description of the other benefits of garlic-mustard:

“The leaves and stems are antiasthmatic, antiscorbutic, antiseptic, deobstruent, diaphoretic, vermifuge and vulnerary.”

This all means that it can help your respiratory system, can prevent scurvy, has anti-microbial activity, has a laxative effect, can expel worms from your body, and helps your veins!

In conclusion, I love this plant! I think it offers us a stark contrast of what we’re taught by modern society about what’s safe, healthy, and affordable. By interacting with the plants like garlic-mustard, we can go into our local woods and find food, medicine, and enjoyment! We don’t have to rush to the grocery store or even a local farm for some of our staples.

I think it’s now modern and cool to forage! Please do responsibly and in sovereignty.

If you have any more questions about this plant, please reach out. Give our new video a watch as well. Thanks for reading!

Photo from Wikipedia

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