Wissahickon Garlic-Mustard Pesto

 Garlic-Mustard: Bad for the forest, good for dinner.

Maple Sugaring in the Wissahickon is complete and spring is finally on her way. Although the winter never settled in and I am still hoping for a few snow days, I am excited to witness nature come alive again. There are little signs spring and peaks of life emerging from the Earth and soon the city, country, forests, and farms will be buzzing with life and lovers of nature. However, for every native plant fighting to share its beauty and nurture the animals and insects, there are invasive plants taking away their space. Garlic mustard is one of these invasive plants.

According to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), “Garlic mustard poses a severe threat to native plants and animals in forest communities. Many native wildflowers that complete their life cycles in the springtime occur in the same habitat as garlic mustard. Once introduced to an area, garlic mustard out competes native plants by aggressively monopolizing light, moisture, nutrients, soil and space. Wildlife species that depend on these early plants for their foliage, pollen, nectar, fruits, seeds and roots, are deprived of these essential food sources when garlic mustard replaces them. Humans are also deprived of the vibrant display of beautiful spring wildflowers.”  

So what is good about garlic mustard? It’s edible and delicious.

I first learned about invasive and edible forest plants when I began working at the Wissahickon Environmental Center (Tree House) in the Wissahickon Valley section of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System. They are a wealth of knowledge and host a wide variety of exciting events and activities for children, families and adults. Their edible plant lessons are always a favorite and the dishes made are delicious. This recipe for garlic mustard pesto can be altered to your taste and eaten with crackers, on pasta, used as a spread on sandwiches, or in place of sauce on pizza. The camp kids loved it with crackers. And remember, it’s an invasive plant, so while its normally never good to take anything from the forest or parks, garlic mustard will not be missed.      

Wissahickon Garlic-Mustard Pesto

2 Cups Garlic Mustard Leaves (young 1st year plant)*
1 Clove Garlic
¾ Parmesan Cheese
~ ½ Cup Olive Oil (add to desired consistency) 
¼ Cup pine nuts (optional)

In a food processor, finely chop the Garlic-Mustard leaves, garlic and pine nuts
Slowly mix in cheese and oil to desired taste and consistency

Eat with bread, crackers, or pasta
Save for future dishes by freezing in ice cube trays

*When harvesting garlic mustard, harvest only the 1st year plant. Be carful not to knock into the 2nd year plants that are often nearby and spread their seeds. Pull the 1st year plants up by the roots and take everything home with you. Put what you do not use in the trash, never the compost. Because it is an invasive plant, we must take all precautions not to enable it to spread.

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