Garlic Mustard: Invasive but good to eat, makes a great pesto

Submitted by Myra Klockenbrink

Pesto Anyone?

Community members across three generations met in Pomerance Park on Saturday and pulled garlic mustard.

Apparently, garlic mustard is good to eat and makes a great pesto, but these folks had a different plan — pull up this invasive and destructive plant before it takes over our forest understory.

Garlic mustard is a Eurasian invasive plant that is taking over forests all over the Northeast. It is common to see along roadsides and other edge habitats, but has spread into our forests and overtaken our native plant understory. Because it is allelopathic, meaning it sends out chemicals that deter native plants like asters and mints, it gains a root-hold and spreads like a garlicky virus. 

Garlic mustard is a biannual. It has a two-year life cycle and in early spring sends up a pretty rosette of leaves (best for pesto we’re told.) The following year it grows into a robust plant full of hanging seed pods that can drop as many as 3,500 seeds per plant. Those seeds germinate and the following spring new rosettes. 

Ryder Asmis with his mom Stephanie at the mustard garlic pull

Ryder Asmis, a fourth-grader at Cos Cob School, joined in the pull. He is learning about the importance of biodiversity in class and shared that when invasive species crowd out the native species the food web is disrupted and, “It’s not good for us either!”

Ruth Sternberg was skeptical about making pesto from the leaves and recommended someone else try it first. She may be onto something because deer and other herbivores don’t like it.

The one good thing about garlic mustard is that it’s easy to pull. “Weeding has never been my thing, but this was a cinch,” according to Sarah Rosell, who pulled an armful of the plant in a few minutes.

The effort was so successful that a second day of pulling has been scheduled for this coming Saturday for those who will be staying in town for the Memorial Day weekend. It’s not too late to pull garlic mustard…any time before it goes to seed. As to pesto…? Add enough garlic and even weeds taste good.

Ruth Sternberg with her daughter Sarah Rosell talking pesto.

Garlic Mustard Pull
Saturday, May 28
10:00am – 12:00 Noon
Meet at Pomerance Parking lot off Orchard Street

RSVP [email protected]