Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice.
A warm golden glow filters through the budding forest as I carefully positioned myself on the thin berm of the road. I’m trying to find the best angle for photographing the Honeybees as they lovingly work the wild geraniums when I become slightly unbalanced. When I widen my stance for stability I accidentally crush a plant beneath my foot and the strong oder of garlic fills the àir. Then I noticed that I’m standing in a mixed blessing. I’m surrounded by garlic mustard.
I choose the phrase “mixed blessing” carefully. Garlic Mustard is one of a number plants brought to the New Word on purpose by colonists. We have to remember that in those days there really wasn’t a concept of invasive species. They only saw this plant as a strong herb with great value as food and medicine. It’s native to Europe and a faithful garden companion. It hardly ever fails to grow and therefore was worthy of being counted on. All parts of the plant are edible and studies have shown that it’s got a very high nutritional density. One of the presenters I listened to while researching this article commented that it’s the most nutritional wild plant they’ve ever studied. It can be eaten raw or cooked. The flavor is of course garlicky and depending on soil quality can be slightly bitter. My instincts are that when it’s bitter it’s probably got more medicinal values that we’ll look at later.
Garlic mustard outperforms garden greens like spinach and Swiss chard in fiber, vitamin A, B-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C, calcium, iron, zinc, Manganese, copper, and omega 3 fatty acids.
Genetic studies indicate that the garlic mustard found in my part of the Appalachian Mountains is descendant from varieties found in the British Islands.
You’ll find a myriad of dishes online that have garlic mustard as a basic ingredient. The most popular seems to be pesto. The basic pesto calls for finely chopped garlic mustard leaves, pine nuts ( sometimes English Walnut) one garlic clove, lemon juice, olive oil and sugar. Because there’s so many recipes out there I recommend pulling a few up and getting the specific proportions and variations to find one that suits you.
Other foods that are suggested for including wildcrafted garlic mustard are mashed potatoes, carrots, stews, quinoa, salad and vinaigrette salad dressing.
The traditional medical uses include, anti asthma, antiseptic, expelling worms, used to promote healthy sweating, treat bronchitis, as a poultice for ulcers and to alleviate bites and stings of insects.
But if all the benefits of garlic mustard aren’t enough for you go out and pull a few garlic mustard plants from your favorite trail let me take a moment to explain why garlic mustard is a bad thing.
In previous articles I’ve mentioned the relationship between symbiotic soil fungi and the health of the forest. Sadly, garlic mustard actively kills not only the symbiotic fungus but the herbs that it’s bonded to and even the trees. It’s one of those plants that exudes a suppressive chemical through its roots and native North American species have no defense against it. One of the herbs that are killed by this is our native trilliums. But the loss of the symbiotic fungus is what concerns me the most. The fungus is the communication network between all plants in the forest. It’s literally like the internet just like was portrayed in the movie Avatar. Very old trees act as data nodes storing environmental information in the form of chemicals stored in the wood. Even old stumps that seem to have been long dead are tapped by the fungus to extract the chemical sequence and teach the younger trees and herbs how to deal with changes in the environment. For a basic explanation here’s a quick video that gives a concise overview.
When garlic mustard breaks this connection it actually harms the forest in the whole surrounding area. And a garlic mustard infestation can last for thirty years before the cycle ends naturally. The recovery of the fungus and connection to old growth forest is bound to take at least as long after the garlic mustard is gone.
Pictured above is West Virginia’s own rare butterfly, the West Virginia White. This little butterfly has had a rough time since industrialization. Heavy logging in the early 20th century had nearly destroyed all of its habit and was once predicted to be the first Eastern species to go extinct. It’s natural native host plant is the native mustards such as Collards. The butterfly will lay its eggs and when they hatch the Caterpillar feeds on the collards. Until garlic mustard came along. Whatever chemical signal that the West Virginia White Butterfly uses to find collards is stronger in the garlic mustard. But it’s a trap. Garlic mustard also produces a substance that’s toxic to the West Virginia White Butterfly and is 100% fatal to the caterpillars. Removal of garlic mustard from your property is essential for the survival of the West Virginia White.
So to sum it all up, foraging on garlic mustard provides you with a plant that’s still grown in some Asian and European gardens, has a higher nutritional value than a lot of domestic greens, helps fight deforestation and increases the health of the environment and helps preserve the West Virginia White Butterfly.
One last thought. Garlic Mustard is a biannual and most removal programs recommended allowing the first year plants to grow and harvesting in the second year after the flowers bloom but before the seeds mature. This should prevent the next generation and in just a few short years the cycle is broken.
That’s it for this week’s Forage Friday. Good night friends and be blessed throughout your days.
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