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Sustainable Roots - Garlic Mustard Pesto

Sustainable Roots part two: How to make garlic mustard pesto

Plus, five facts about the invasive species garlic mustard

In the second video of our three-part series with Reid Williamson of Sustainable Roots Ecological Restoration, we attended her Garlic Mustard Workshop, to learn more about this invasive plant, how to look for it and what to do with it once we find it. That is, how to make garlic mustard pesto. Which, we found, is delicious.  

Press play on the video to watch and learn.

We share some facts about garlic mustard below, if you want some more information about this edible invasive after you view the video, or before you get started. If you’d prefer to get right to the garlic mustard pesto recipe, scroll on down to the bottom of the page for all the details.

Five facts about garlic mustard

It’s a culinary herb

Garlic mustard was brought to North America from Europe in the early 19th century as an edible herb. Subsequently, it escaped from gardens and into the wild, and is now one of Ontario’s most aggressive invasive species. Significantly, it’s dominant in forests, where it’s displacing native species.

It loves to get around

Garlic mustard is easily spread by people and by animals, with seeds travelling on boots, clothing or fur. Equally important for consideration, seeds from the plant can remain viable and can sprout in soil for up to thirty years. Because it’s a a self-pollinator, only one plant is needed to start a whole new population of the species in a whole new area. Indeed, dense populations of garlic mustard can produce over 60,000 seeds per square metre. Consequently, these dense areas can double in size every four years.

Garlic mustard is now invasive in many areas of Ontario as far north as Sault Ste. Marie and is present in parts of Quebec, as well as North Carolina and Kentucky in the United States. Additionally, isolated populations have been found in other areas of Canada, in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

Garlic mustard growing in the forest at Humber Arboretum
Garlic mustard is a biennial plant. In its second year, it will flower and produce seeds

It's a biennial

Garlic mustard has a two-year growth phase. In its first year, the plant produces a small basal rosette, with all leaves coming from a central point. The plant over-winters well, with leaves staying green under the snow. 

In its second year garlic mustard grows much larger (up to a metre tall) and will produce white flowers and eventually seeds. During its seed dropping phase, pods and seeds will fall and spread from late summer until early November. One study showed a dense population of garlic mustard produced 105,000 seeds per square metre.

It’s got chemistry

Garlic mustard is an allelopathic plant. As such, its roots produce chemicals that change soil chemistry, which prevents other plant species from growing nearby. In general, it’s not appealing to herbivores (deer, for example) as a food source.

The entire plant is edible, from root to flower

A member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family, the garlic mustard plant is nutritious and contains vitamin A, vitamin B-Carotene; vitamin E, and vitamin C, plus the minerals calcium, iron, zinc and manganese.

The leaves of the garlic mustard plant are scalloped and grow from a basal rosette

One last fact

Once garlic mustard has taken hold in an environment, it can displace native plants and wildflowers like the trilliums and trout lilies of Ontario’s forests.

It’s significant to note that garlic mustard interferes with the growth of mycelium (fungi) networks that bring nutrients to the roots of plants. As a result, this invasive species threatens several of Ontario’s at risk species, including American ginseng, drooping trillium, false rue-anemone, hoary mountain mint, white wood aster, wild hyacinth, and wood poppy.

If you find garlic mustard in your backyard, or if your area has an environmental group that has permission to forage it from a local forest or field, there’s no limit to how much you should gather.

Then, make yourself some garlic mustard pesto. It’s delicious and you can use it in a range of ways. You can use it as is on pizza or pasta or as a dip, thin it to make a salad dressing, or add mayo and lemon to make an aoli.

Garlic mustard pesto is easy to make, and surprisingly delicious!

Reid’s Garlic Mustard Pesto Recipe

Reid shared her recipe for garlic mustard pesto with us, but it’s also available on the Sustainable Roots website (along with several other recipes which are equally wonderful).

Ingredients:

  • 50g garlic mustard leaves/greens
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 TBSP honey
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • Salt/pepper (to taste)
  • Optional: other herbs for taste (basil, oregano, dandelion, nettle, etc.)

Method:

  1. Process and wash the garlic mustard greens
  2. Add oil, sunflower seeds, and nutritional yeast, and garlic into food processor and pulse
  3. Add garlic mustard greens and optional herbs and pulse
  4. Add honey, salt, pepper and pulse

With this recipe, the pesto can still taste bitter depending on your palette. You can offset the bitterness by adding apple cider vinegar or more honey.

yellow petaled flower by elias sorey unsplash

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