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Chefs and Nature Lovers-- Garlic Mustard Challenge

Home Forums Events Food & Drink Events Chefs and Nature Lovers– Garlic Mustard Challenge

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    Garlic Mustard– Eat A Local Green, Save Local Green

    Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a member of the Brassicaceae family, along with other edible plants such as arugula, broccoli, cabbage, mustard, and horseradish. It is not native to the United States but was brought here as a food crop. Garlic mustard has attractive, heart-shaped, and tender bright green leaves that smell of garlic when crushed, and a long white taproot which smells of horseradish. In its native Europe and Asia, it was used to flavor meats and fish, and known by many names such as sauce-alone, jack-by-the-hedge, garlic root and poor man’s mustard. The leaves come up with the first flush of warm weather and their flavor expresses the same springy impudence (“you getting fresh with me?“) as green onions, chives, and arugula.


    Tender, redolent garlic mustard greens

    There is a window of about a week a year to harvest wild-grown, pesticide-free tender young garlic mustard leaves in Ohio, before it goes to seed. The leaves can be had free of charge– to whomever wants to pick them.

    You see, garlic mustard, as beautiful and delicious as it is, is an invasive plant that is completely taking over the understory of what healthy forestland we have remaining in Ohio. Garlic mustard has no control in North America– well, except for people. Deer won’t eat it, and as a consequence they eat all of the native plants around it. The roots put out a chemical that inhibits the growth of all other plants and fungi nearby. This means tree saplings have no chance. There is a massive cadre of volunteers who mobilize each spring to eradicate this herb from hill and dale.


    Garlic mustard crowding out native Ohio understory plants

    Luckily, garlic mustard plucking week coincides with some of the showiest wildflower displays of the year, so the task is more pleasure than chore (hard work, nonetheless). You can be one of these pickers– and get the freshest supply– or you can send down a cooler and we will pack it full of garlic mustard for you– if you will cook with it and let us sample the results! Fresh, pesticide-free, local greens– free of charge– a distinctive ingredient with a storied heritage that most diners have never experienced– and you are doing your part to preserve Ohio’s wild places. This stuff was meant to be eaten, so… let’s eat it. If you come up with inventive and sophisticated recipes showcasing garlic mustard, and we hear about it, rest assured: renown will be yours. Publicity will follow.


    Beautiful Ohio!! This is the last piece of Ohio River bank still flush with dwarf larkspur– scores of volunteers pull garlic mustard out of here yearly– picture by Tim Pohlar

    Help us get the word out!

    If we have enough success with this event, we can make it yearly, and really make an impact, on the plate and in the woods.

    So choose your weapon– spade or skillet!

    To join us on a garlic mustard pick/wildflower viewing, or to cook in our garlic mustard challenge, contact Mandy with the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System at: [email protected].



    This has got real potential. We were talking it out at Details one night, and there are a couple of logistical hurdles to be overcome, but the whole idea of getting people to come out and eat an invasive species is frigging brilliant.

    Might require another trip to Details to work out the specifics…. ;-)


    Please, yes. God I love Details.

    Yeah, I know it might require a little finagling, but it’s a fun day trip. I’ve had a couple other people tell me they’re interested, too.



    This is a noble mission, but under the circumstances, if the garlic mustard has established itself, it will be hard to eradicate. Here is Wisconsin’s experience with the same issue.

    A determined and comprehensive long term strategy would be appropriate. But this is a great heads up and we should take some action, perhaps bring it to the attention of state government that could mobilize an effort.



    nitrogenman wrote >>
    This is a noble mission, but under the circumstances, if the garlic mustard has established itself, it will be hard to eradicate.

    I won’t speak for Manatee, but if I remember correctly from last year, the idea is

    (a) a holding action against the garlic mustard, pending precisely such a more comprehensive strategy; and
    (b) an emergency effort to save endangered plant species that are in danger of being killed off by garlic mustard in the very near future (e.g. the dwarf larkspur).

    Toward this end, one thought was that an Iron Chef-style competition of sorts among area chefs could be created: the garlic-mustard pickers could produce a virtually limitless supply of the stuff at little or no cost, and for one weekend local restaurants could engage in a friendly competition to see who could come up with the most creative specials utilizing it. Text for menus could tell guests that they’re helping Ohio’s ecology by ordering the special, the competition could be advertised to spur business for all of the restaurants involved, that sort of idea.

    This would be, what, the last weekend in April?

    That, in rough outline, was the plan as I remember it. There were cocktails involved during the inception of this plan, possibly a few, so I might not have everything perfectly straight.


    That’s about right, Bear. Thanks for clarifying.

    Nitrogen, the Preserve where I work has certain parcels of land that have been systematically plucked before seed fall fo several years now. We have found that this is the best way to deplete the seed store, and over time significantly reduce, and in some places erdicate, garlic mustard. We know it’s not comprehensive for the whole forest, as you say, and boy would I welcome any state initiative. But we’ve got to do something to protect these hard-won, last remaining pieces of relatively intact Ohio woodland. And if I have to basically weed the forest floor once a year to do that, I will :)

    …plus if someone will make something delicious out of it and raise awareness, all the better!


    …and from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website:



    Mechanical controls of garlic mustard include hand-pulling and cutting, and are most effective on smaller infestations. Hand-pulling of plants can be very effective, although labor intensive. Care must be taken to insure that the entire plant is removed and that all plant materials are bagged and moved off-site. A plant can continue to mature and produce seeds even if it has been pulled up. Hand-pulling and removal must continue until the seed bank is exhausted (at least 7 years).

    ODNR didn’t say that garlic mustard would be a great addition to, say, Lemongrass’s Asian Greens Dumplings. But I’m sayin’ that. ;)


    Alex Silbajoris

    “Think like an equine: Eat your weeds.”

    Garlic mustard is great to cook with, think of it as handling similar to spinach.

    FOSR hasd been cutting honeysuckle for years but 2008 was the first time I organized a garlic mustard pull. We had about 30 people from Qwest and we pulled 61 bags out of the little ravine behind Indian Village Camp.


    We have penciled in another removal for June 5 of this year, anyone is welcome to join us!

    There’s more than a week for harvesting, and the leaves are more tender when the plant is younger. I have read that the seed can be viable for up to 11 years so repeated control is needed. At least it isn’t thorny so it’s fairly easy to pull.



    Manatee, as soon as you know which weekend to “harvest,” please let me know. Generally Sundays work best for me, but considering our new Sunday serving license, the further in advance you know, the more likely I’ll be able to find a replacement for my shift. I’m looking forward to this!

    Simply sauteed in olive oil and red pepper is my choice of nom.



    Great work guys. OK! I’m in for the cooking combat and I will be starting a farmer’s market in late April, so I can take a bunch of greens off your hands and distribute it to the neighborhood (short north/campus).

    I’m sorry I can’t pluck this year, but with plenty of advance notice for next year. I’m there.

    So, who’s ready to challenge me….



    A few more thoughts of the issue:

    1. I would happy to ‘donate’ my restaurant kitchen to a day or two of cooking down mustard greens and then sending the finished product to the Food Bank.

    2. I would also be happy to contact AGCA at the Conservatory and see if next year we can’t mobilize an army of community gardeners for the mechanical control. When the new campus is complete, those facilities will become available and perhaps Bill Dawson and the Conservatory would like to get involved in some sort of Mustard Garlic Festival (at least till we get things under control).




    Y’know, this is Restaurant Week… maybe it’d make sense to do up a flier asap and post a link to it here, so that people could print it out and take it in with them when they go in to eat dinner? Just drop one off with the server, ask that it gets to the chef… and post a cross-link on the Restaurant Week thread?

    What information do we need on the flyer? I’d think distribution would be the main issue — the mechanics of where they can go to get it. I’ve talked to Colleen a bit about this (to the extent that she can talk) and she’s made the following points about distribution.

    1. The Greener Grocer would be an obvious choice, but space will be a problem if we’re talking about lots and lots of greens. (Manatee, you mentioned coolers; did you have a more decentralized system in mind?)

    2. If / to the extent that the GG is an option, giving it away, perversely, might be a worse way to get rid of it than selling it for a pittance, because people are initially wary of free stuff (“What’s the catch?”) but far less so of things that are really, really cheap.

    Also desirable on flier: “Write to this email address to confirm that you and your restaurant will participate.”

    I wonder (thinking out loud here) whether having samples of it to experiment with before the weekend in question would be valuable, or whether the description is enough to go on for the chefs?

    I like the Food Bank idea. I’ve never been clear, though, on whether they accept homemade (or restaurant-made) food? They mostly seem interested in canned goods…. :-/



    Is this the same food I know as “mustard greens” or that a completely different non-animal?


    Hey, cool, quite a response!

    Alexs- we generally pick it that week because it’s big enough to see easily to pick, but hasn’t dropped it’s seeds yet. A lot of times we are literally pulling it out of huge wildflower displays, so we need to be able to see it. But it’s a bonus for this cooking thing, because it’ll be big enough to be leafy and succulent but not post-seedfall tough.

    Schmack– I’m thinking the weekend of April 25/26th? We can pick one of those days and do a day trip. If Sunday’s okay with everybody, it’s okay with me.

    Nitrogen– great about the Farmer’s Market, that’s a maybe. The Food Bank, as far as I know, doesn’t really groove on homemade perishables. Like Bear said, they seem to go for cans and boxes, etc. But can’t hurt to ask. The Garlic Mustard Fest at the Conservatory would be a great idea– but we do have to make it SUPER CLEAR not to dispose of any of this stuff outside– i.e., don’t compost it except at a composting FACILITY. Know what I mean ;) ?

    Bear– Any help you could give with the flyer is much appreciated. Can we use the piece I wrote above but tweak it to that purpose? You guys just know more about that world than I do. So much obliged. As far as coolers/storage/charging, I’m going to do a few experiments to store some GM I’ve found in the city, just to see how it fares in the refrigerator. I don’t want to go to all that trouble only to have a mass wilt-o-rama. Charging is fine if you think that’s best. You two are the authorities there I think.

    Berdawn– no, this isn’t the same as mustard greens, although they are in the same family of plants.



    Manatee wrote >>
    Bear– Any help you could give with the flyer is much appreciated. Can we use the piece I wrote above but tweak it to that purpose? You guys just know more about that world than I do. So much obliged.

    Really pressed for time, so I’m afraid I kind of half-assed this one, but take a look at


    and tell me what you think. If it’s ok with you, it could go out with some people to dinner tonight maybe.


    Holy frijoles, Bear, you’re really good at that! :D

    Yeah, that’s awesome, take it wherever you can!! Thanks!!!!

    P.S. I picked a few GM plants (tiny babies, but still, whole rosettes, roots and all) on the way home, and immediately wrapped the roots in slightly damp paper towels, then stored the whole plant upright in an open-at-the-top plastic baggie in the fridge. I’ll see how it looks as time progresses.

    The leaves were still very tiny, and the tiniest ones were almost unbearably garlicky. But the bigger ones (closer to the size we would be using) were pretty damned delicious, and made me want to go whip up an omelette ASAP! The roots really do smell like horseradish; I’ll wash one up and taste it later.

    My kid said: “This is the kind of thing peole put with mayonnaise”– I can only hope she meant aioli. ;)

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