Garlic Mustard – Alliaria Petiolata: Edible & Medicinal Uses of A Notoriously Aggressive Invasive Nonnative

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If you spend any time in public parks and woodlands you may be familiar with the notorious garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). While there are numerous nonnative plants in Ontario that are spreading into wild spaces, plants like garlic mustard, creeping jenny, dog strangling vine, “bamboo” that’s actually Japanese knotweed, and Lily-of-the-valley are some of the more common invasive plants. These plants get established in a wild space and kill nearly all other herbaceous (think native) plants. They destroy biodiversity; native plants and the wildlife that depend on them.

When Haliburton Flora was compiled decades ago, it wasn’t present in our county.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

It is now! *sad face*

It has recently started to spread here. Sadly, this picture to the left was taken down the shady IB&O trail near Wilberforce. There are patches around the towns here. Part of garlic mustard’s incredible aggression is the spread and lifespan of the seeds. The seeds can last decades in the soil (30 yrs). Garlic mustard is also allelopathic, which means it emits chemicals that destroy other plants around it.

Garlic mustard is easy to identify with its scalloped margins and the spicy smell of garlic.

What can you do when you find it? Some parks invite people to just harvest these for food and if you’re looking to do so there may be one near you. Take it all early in the year if you like.

Many methods have been thrown at garlic mustard invasions including chopping it down, covering the area in black plastic, eating it, vinegar or harsher sprays,… goats.

There is some evidence patches may only grow so large and will die out, and that essentially avoidance (links to 2021 article When it comes to garlic mustard, doing less is more“) is the answer, not goats.

You can find the current standard at the Invasive Species Centre’s webpage for garlic mustard.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Edible Uses of Garlic Mustard

A member of the cabbage family, its shiny new leaves and shoots are best before the plant blooms. But the leaves are always edible chopped. Just more bitter in the summertime. They are best fresh as a flavouring added to salad greens or cooking. Think of it as a garlic more than a spinach substitute.

The seed pods can be collected early summer and eaten, and both the green and ripe seeds are edible. The blossoms can be eaten too.

Even the roots are edible, but they’re stringy and tough, tasting somewhat like horseradish.

Medicinal Uses of Garlic Mustard

 Garlic mustard is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Antiseptic and Diaphoretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage is similar to the more popular mustards in herbal medicine. Garlic mustard isn’t used much in Western herbal medicine and has very little mention in my herbal library.

Growing Mustards

There are safe mustard/cabbage family plants to grow in Ontario that won’t potentially destroy your local parks or trails or invade the woodlands near you. It’s also pretty easy to grow actual garlic. True garlic is one of those garden plants that actually flourishes around Haliburton, without much need for a green thumb. And you could grow horseradish, which isn’t aggressive!


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries (Regional Foraging Series)

The Forager’s Calendar: A Seasonal Guide to Nature’s Wild Harvests

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

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