It's up for debate

To Sow a Delicious Invasive

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Today, I was excited to sow my stratified garlic mustard seeds. May the ignorant of botany-based bloggers be aghast and rank me among those who still opt to use kudzu for soil control.

Garlic mustard leaves and flowers

Garlic mustard leaves and flowers

I’m a massive fan of Alliaria petiolata, or garlic mustard, and have been since being introduced to the leafy green living in Ridley Park, Delaware County, with my sister. Her boyfriend had pointed it out as a nuisance that kept popping up in their yard, and I immediately recognized it from a book, strangely enough, given to me as a Christmas gift by my sister some years ago.

The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Mushrooms, Fruits, and Nuts by Katie Letcher Lyle is one of the few books I’ve taken to writing notes in the margins, and it’s from this handy guide I first heard of garlic mustard and its wonderful culinary and medical uses.

True to southeast Pennsylvania, the author sufficiently describes the plant as appearing “to have infiltrated fields, paths, and the edges of woods with its pretty, light green, scalloped round leaves that smell and taste faintly of garlic.”

And she goes on to mention mustard garlic’s invasive behavior, which may be thanks to its allelopathic tendencies, basically putting out chemicals in the soil to inhibit the growth of certain other surrounding plants.

Milkweed at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

Milkweed at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

I saw widespread evidence of this during my brief volunteering with the Visitor Center at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. The largest remaining freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania, this refuge is home to protected nests of bald eagles and turtles and a fertile grounds for native milkweeds and toadflax.

Unfortunately, given the refuge’s disturbed and industrial past, it is plagued by invasive species like white poplar (Populus alba), false indigo-bush (Amorpha fruticosa), and, of course, garlic mustard.

And there exist numerous news articles on methods and proposals for the eradication of garlic mustard, all of which seem so very deplorable: the introduction of rogue and unpredictable weevil predators, fire control, chemical spraying, etc.

Mile-a-Minute Weed in Cobb's Creek in Delaware County

Mile-a-Minute Weed in Cobb’s Creek in Delaware County

Whilst volunteering for Weed Warriors, a program run by the refuge, I listened to veteran volunteers lament the spread of garlic mustard throughout the refuge, overcrowding and -shadowing other potential plants. The only other contender for worst invasive, according to them, is mile-a-minute weed, or Persicaria perfoliata. And during my time with the refuge’s visitor center, I was elated when the volunteers told me I could harvest garlic mustard to my heart’s content.

And while I’m skeptical of the green’s affect on asthma, I was happy to fill up to my heart and bodys’ content with Vitamin C and absolute tastiness. Both the leaves and stems are fantastic in any rice dish and even in a simple salad. Though, as Lyle wisley points out in her book, the leaves mustn’t be boiled/cooked so much that they become slimy; adding them in to a boil or steam in the last few minutes is best.

Though I’ve since moved from Delaware County, I hope to rejoin the refuge’s volunteer force, not just for the garlic mustard but because I really do trust and believe in their efforts to rehabilitate this fantastic preserve. You can join me this spring and summer in my eradication efforts/harvesting by reaching out to the Friends Group coordinator Suzanne Kelley at


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  1. […] Invasive, yet delicious Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) […]

  2. […] this never-ending battle. Two years ago was my first experience as a Weed Warrior — the trunks of the girdled invasive white poplar trees are since dead and decaying, but new growth (suckers) have thwarted all efforts, rising from the […]

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