John Burwell, the Pinehurst Project weed warrior who has lately adopted Broad Branch Stream, recently invited a small group of volunteers to help pull invasive garlic mustard that is now rapidly intruding along the banks of the nearby Linnean Stream. His invitation included a couple of recipes for the weed, one for chimichurri sauce, the other for pesto.One of the volunteers decided to give the pesto a try. Anna Williamson, a resident of Forest Hills, emailed her fellow “weed whackers” to let them know that she used the leaves of young garlic mustard in their first year of growth. They were mild, so she added two cups of basil to amp up the flavor. The result:
Overall, the pesto came out very tasty and saves the trouble of either growing or buying a huge amount of basil! We added it to oxtail pasta from Uptown Market along with some cherry tomatoes and spinach from the UDC farmer’s market, with more pine nuts and parmesan to top it off. We froze the rest to use in other dishes in the future. Definitely recommend trying it out!
Williamson also thinks the young leaves would be great in a salad, as she detected almost no bitterness. As its name suggests, garlic mustard leaves smell like garlic when crushed.
Garlic mustard was most likely introduced in the U.S. in the 1860s, by European settlers who brought the herb to grow for food and medicine. The first recorded mention of it straying from gardens and growing on its own was around 1868, in Long Island, New York. Garlic mustard is native to Europe, parts of Asia, Africa, Pakistan and China. In the U.S., garlic mustard has no natural insect predators, and the plants contain trace amounts of cyanide (like broccoli, a garlic mustard relative), a deterrence to deer but safe for humans to eat.
The plant also prevents the growth of fungi that other native plants need. John Burwell explains here how the plant gains a foothold and an advantage over native species.
If you are interested in joining the invasive-fighting effort, contact Burwell at email@example.com.