Garlic mustard, Jack in the hedge (Alliaria petiolata)


Photo courtesy of Elodie and Herman, in De Baarsjes, Amsterdam. 25th April 2012.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is easy to find in many cities and is also very easy to eat!

It is often easy to spot them at the base of large tree trunks and along the edges of woodland and hedges. They also thrive within woodland. It flowers at the end of April into May. Whilst flowering, it is very easy to identify, not only by the distinctive smell of garlic when the leaves are bruised but also by the tiny white flowers at the top of the plant. Garlic mustard is a favorite amongst foragers and can grow up to 120 cm in the right location.

This plant is a biennial and can provide year round nutritious greens, for salads or the cooking pot. All parts are edible. Even the roots can be eaten, they should be harvested just before flowering, but of course removing the whole plant will limit the foraging potential the following year as the plant will be unable to spread by seed. Far better is to pick a leaf or two at intervals, throughout the growing season and leaving the plant to flower and set seed unhindered.

Garlic mustard isn’t known as a medicinal herb, more a culinary one. It is a member of the mustard family, Brassicaceae, so I like to think of it as a tasty replacement for sprouts.

I see lots of Garlic mustard growing around Amsterdam. You are very likely to find it along the edges of canals, hedges and overgrown areas, such as railway embankments. Mid to late spring is probably the best time to identify it.

Eating Garlic mustard is straightforward. It can be eaten raw, if very clean or cooked. It has a garlicky spinachy taste so works well with many ingredients. In like to chop up a leaf or two and mix them in with other spring greens, which I steam.

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