Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wild Edible: Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard, Jack-by-the-Hedge, Hedge Mustard,  all names for this plant that seems to grow almost anywhere.  Garlic mustard has a flavor that, in the young leaves, taste like a green gentle garlic.  As the leaves get older they also take on a bitter edge that can be good in some dishes but that bitterness fades when put with most oils or even butter.  This is probably why it is so popular in  olive oil heavy pesto.

It starts off as a rosette of sorts with several leaves coming off each root often looking like a small mound.  The leaves are roundish in shape with a divet cut our for the stem.  They have scalloped edges and can take on a bit of a shine, though not always.  As they reach their second year they send up a flower stalk that can grow to three feet high, topped off with small cluster like, white flowers.

A biannual that is also an evergreen, garlic mustard is a plant that is pretty easy to find east of the Mississippi River any time of the year, except when it's buried under deep snow.  That's not always a good thing though.  Garlic mustard is an invasive that can take over any habitat; a garden, a pasture, a hay field, a yard...basically  any place it decides to call home.  Once it gets established it can wipe out any plant that grows near it by excreting a poison that stops other plants from growing.  The good thing is that there are tons of uses for the plant so if we could get more people out there harvesting it, maybe we could keep it from taking over.

With that, as well as other ideas in mind, four years ago our town started a annual event called 'The Garlic Mustard Weekend'.  We were going to call it 'the garlic mustard festival' except we weren't really celebrating garlic mustard as much as trying to find new ways to coax people into getting rid of the stuff.  It was also a good way to bring the community together (a cause everyone should strive for), and a way to highlight a free food, especially in these hard times.  The high point of the weekend is the garlic mustard cook off, where people compete with different dishes that must have garlic mustard as an ingredient in them.  We also must make enough of it to pass around, creating a community pot luck of sorts.  Local business donate the prizes but the real prize is being noticed for our great cooking skills.

So, the fourth annual garlic mustard weekend is coming up in around a month and I am trying to find the winning recipe since I have never won (I can have weird taste in foods lol).  Since I love garlic and also like free food,  this is a plant I enjoy to cook with.  Still, I can't find that elusive recipe that makes me win even one prize.  And goodness knows I would love to have a $25.00 gift certificate to the hardware store.  Who wouldn't?

There will be plenty of pesto at the festival, so that is out as a winning recipe.  You can go online and find many different garlic mustard pesto recipes but since it is so simple here's one that you can play around with to find your favorite taste:

Garlic Mustard Pesto
11⁄2 cups fresh garlic mustard leaves
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1⁄4 cup walnuts or whatever free nuts you have in your area
3⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3⁄4 cup olive oil
In a food processor, finely chop the
garlic mustard leaves, garlic and nuts.
Slowly mix in the cheese and olive oil.

This cannot only be eaten on good crusty bread or pasta but can be frozen in ice cube trays to be popped into sauces or stews later on for flavor.

I also like putting garlic mustard on homemade pizza instead of spinach.  It is good in many summer salads, and I have a friend that mixes it with dried apples in her oatmeal.  That's a bit over the top for me but everyone has their own tastes.  The winning dish last year was garlic mustard brownies, which sounds strange but was actually quite delicious.  I'm thinking of going with a garlic mustard cheesy bread.  I'm perfecting the recipe but this is what I have so far:

Preheat oven at: 375 degrees

Ingredients (bread):
2 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 package Rapid Rise Yeast
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons butter

Ingredients (cheese):
¼ cup sour cream
1 egg
Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh garlic mustard
¼ teaspoon salt

In a mixing bowl, combine ¾ cups flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.
heat milk, water and butter iuntil 120 degrees and add to flour
Add ¼ cup flour then knead in enough flour to make dough.
Let rest 10 minutes
Combine cheese ingredients
Roll dough into 1/ inch thick rectangle and spread a thin layer of cheese on dough
Roll rectangle into a loaf shape and let rise 20 minutes
Bake for 13 minutes

The root of the garlic mustard is often called poor man's horseradish.  I disagree with this on two points.  First, horseradish is poor man's horseradish.  Once you plant horseradish in your garden it is hard to get rid of it.  Poor people don't need a substitute for it because they always have it.  Second because garlic mustard root doesn't taste like horseradish.  It does have a bit of heat, but it has that nice garlic bite to it too.  I actually like the taste of the root better than the leaves, though those who aren't as big of a garlic fiend as I am would disagree with me. 

Last year I pickled some of the root and found it wonderfully smooth with a hint of garlic.  I used it up within a couple of months so this spring I really went all out and pickled 48 jars of it.  That's a lotta garlic mustard out of the woods and into my pantry.  Yum.  Here's the recipe for that, you can multiple or divide to get the amount you want:


  • 1/2 pound garlic mustard roots-washed and chopped into 2 - 3 inch piece
  • 2 cups vinegar-I use apple cider vinegar but that's because its free for me, distilled vinegar is fine
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed


  1. In a large saucepan over medium high heat, place the vinegar and sugar. Wrap ground dry mustard and celery seed in a spice bag, and place in the liquid mixture. Bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes. Stir in garlic mustard roots. Continue boiling 5 minutes. Remove from heat and discard spice bag.
  2. Place garlic mustard roots into sterile jars to within 1 inch of the top. Fill with remaining liquid to within 1/4 inch from the top.  Put on hot lids and rings.  Let set until sealed.  Label and store for at least two weeks before using.  The longer you store it, the more the flavors meld together.
  3. This year, after my peppers are up I'm going to make some of this with both sweet and hot peppers with the garlic mustard roots.  You can work with what you have for flavors you like.

With imagination and fun in the kitchen there are hundred of recipes that this free food can be used in.   And if you have any great recipes that you think might let me win that 2 night stay at Great Wolf Lodge, I will gladly share the weekend with you if I win it.  We could also win a free day out on a pontoon boat on Lake Wisconsin or even a box of Glazers from the local Quick Trip (like I need the calories).  Hmmm, so many prizes...I'm going to have to work some more on my recipe. :-)


  1. I hope you won. I was looking for a recipe to make a Thai garlic mustard relish, and read your blog post. Never knew about roots

  2. Garlic Mustard is up in my yard here in Madison, WI this week. I pulled it up easily, root and all. The leaves and stems will be eaten raw with fish & rice as a room temperature salad thing, but the roots I didn't know. I'll save up to pickle a jar or two!! thanx

  3. Greetings from the UK! Thank you so much for this recipe! I have been having fun foraging in our C-19 lockdown and your recipes have been helping me stretch my grocery budget so thank you! I actually made your chutney recipe a little spicy with garam masala and ginger and clove and I like it so much with veg, rice or even on crackers with cheese!