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Cooking with invasives: Garlic Mustard Pesto

by libby, July 14 2021

Week two of the CSA and as much as we loved spending the entire day in the kitchen cooking up knotweed bars last week, we decided to do something a little easier and less time intensive this week. So if you are looking for a way to quicker and easier way to help the environment and cook something delicious, Garlic Mustard pesto might be the recipe for you. Here it is:



  • 5 cups garlic mustard leaves

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • salt & pepper

  • squeeze of lemon

Optional (but delicious):

  • Handful of nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds)

  • Handful of fresh herbs (basil, parsley, or thyme) (or.....Kale from your CSA!)

  • Handful of parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast


  1. Harvest, wash, and chop Garlic Mustard

  2. Blend in a food processor.

  3. Enjoy on pasta, crackers, sandwiches, vegetables, and whatever your heart desires


Now that you have seen the recipe and just how easy and appealing it is to make, lets talk about garlic mustard, what it is, why it is problematic, how to eat it, all the stuff.

What Is Garlic Mustard?

Garlic Mustard, like last weeks infamous Japanese Knotweed, is an incredibly invasive species in Vermont. Its scientific name is Alliaria petiolata, Alliaria meaning resembling allium due to the garlic scent of crushed foliage, but it is actually in the Brassicaceae or mustard family! It is a herbaceous biennial plant- biennial meaning it takes two years to complete its biological lifecycle- native to Europe and Asia and invasive here in our lovely state of Vermont. The first year you may recognize it as low to the ground rosettes, similar to violet leaves. The second year it is tall with heart shaped leaves, funky flowers, and stringy seeds pods- but more on ID later. Its high shade tolerance allows for the plant to invade mature woodland areas and establish monoculture dense stands of the plant. It also produces an allelopathic compound in the soil that prevents other seeds from germinating. This creates an issue when it shades out and outcompetes understory natives reducing the forests biodiversity and eliminating a food source for many native fauna species who are unfamiliar with and will not eat garlic mustard.

How to Identify:

As we discussed earlier, garlic mustard is a biennial meaning it takes on a different form its first versus second year. The first year the plant grows low to the ground in bright green rosettes with wavy edges. It looks very similar to violet, which is also an edible plant so no stress if some leaves get mixed into your batch. However violet leaves are a darker green, with a less jagged edge, and less veinal on the underside of the leaves. Any easy way to check is to crush the leaves, garlic mustard should smell like garlic.

Garlic mustard on left, violet on right

Second year garlic mustard can range from a few centimeters to 6 feet tall. The leaves on the stalks of these plants are more triangular, heart shaped with toothed edges. In late spring, early summer it has white flowers that develop into slender seed pods!

Why to eat, how to eat:

The reason why you should eat garlic mustard is because it is delicious. Garlic Mustard was actually brought to the United States as a spring time edible and was a traditional food source in Europe before its introduction here. We actually ran into a group of Nepalese people harvesting stinging nettle along the calkins trail at the Intervale, who shared with us that at their home in Nepal it was popular to garden and grow garlic mustard for its flavorful leaves and seeds! It is high in vitamins, nutrients, and Omega-3 fatty acids. The plant also serves a function medicinally, it is an antiscorbutic (prevents scurvy), diaphoretic (induces perspiration), and vermifuge (anti-parasitic). Topical application of leaves as poultice can be used for wounds and ulcers. Garlic mustard, as misleading as the name is, is not a member of the allium family, but instead the mustard family. Take a handful of its ripe black seeds and experience the burst of mustard flavor inside- they are known to complement spicy food. The seeds, leaves, and roots are all edible with the roots tasting horseradishy and the leaves tasting both garlic and mustardy. The roots can be pickled or eaten like any other root vegetable. The plant should be harvested when leaves are young for the best flavor experience, as they become more bitter and tough as they mature. The first year leaves can be harvested year round, but it is best to harvest the second year plants from early to late spring, before the plants flower and stalks mature. While you can certainly eat mature leaves, they contain higher cyanide levels and should first be cooked. Seeds can be harvested in midsummer when they began to mature and become black, but it is important to be cautious to not spread any while harvesting, seeing this is the primary way garlic mustard spreads. When harvesting feel free to remove the whole plant by its roots, it pulls up fairly easily, remove and bag the leaves and drape the stalks over a high up tree branch or against a steep on the ground. The plant reproduces by seeds so as long as they are not viable (will know by black coloring and openness of seed pods) it is fine to leave removed plant on forest floor. You can use the leaves for anything you use spinach for, although pesto is awesome because the grinding up of leaves helps release its garlicky flavor! As always, if you have any questions on harvesting, using, or identifying species feel free to shoot us an email!

CSA Experience:

This week was something special. It was an incredibly gratifying experience to be able to share something so meaningful to us with the community and be able to hear the incredible relationships the share members had with cooking, invasives, and Garlic mustard as well as answer lots of the questions and misconceptions surrounding foraging and invasive species! We encouraged over 60 people to sample our pesto and gave out 35 brochures filled with our recipe and invasive information! It was enjoyable for us to work to find a recipe that would be more accessible to people with potentially less time or baking experience than needed for our knotweed bars. While we were impressed by the response of most of the CSA members, we noticed the name "Garlic Mustard" seemed to put off several people. Many were suspicious of using a weed in a pesto causing us to evaluate and explore the relationship a name and reputation has in peoples biases regarding food. Just some food for thought- no pun intended! We cannot wait to see everyone next week with some baked "Goutweed chips"!

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