Usually when we write these plant profiles it’s about a plant we think makes a great addition to northern yards and gardens. Garlic mustard—not so much. But this is a plant that you should know so you can identify it when it enters your yard—and get rid of it ASAP.
To Learn More
If you want to learn more and find out how to eradicate this invasive species, consider taking our upcoming webinar on garlic mustard. It’s part of a series of webinars on habitat restoration taught by Cheryl Culbreth of Landscape Restoration, Inc.
What is garlic mustard?
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a biennial plant that is part of the mustard or brassica family. It’s native in many places around the world, from Africa to Scandinavia, Morocco to Pakistan and China. It is not native to North America but likely came here with European immigrants in the 1800s, who used it for medicinal and culinary purposes. It’s an aggressive plant and is currently widespread in the United States. In Minnesota, it is a common, invasive weed in the southern half of the state, and is beginning to spread to wild areas in Duluth and northern Minnesota. Garlic mustard is classified as a restricted noxious weed by the state of Minnesota, which means land owners are encouraged to manage them.
Like other biennials, garlic mustard’s appearance changes between the first and second year of its life. In the first year, it’s a low growing foliage plant, with kidney-shaped leaves that grow in rosettes. It is sometimes confused with creeping Charlie because of its appearance, but the scent of garlic mustard is distinctive — it smells like garlic! In the second year, the plant sends up a slender stalk with a small white flower at the top. Each plant produces hundreds of seeds, which are spread by wind. The plants stay green all winter and so get a jump on other plants in the spring. Garlic mustard is also allelopathic, meaning it sends out chemicals that prevent growth in other plants and even trees. It can easily take over a garden, a yard or a forest and is very destructive to biodiversity. In addition to its aggressive spread, garlic mustard has no wildlife benefit.
Can you eat it?
Yes, it is an edible plant with a garlicky flavor. Foragers use the first year leaves in salads and may garnish dishes with the flowers. The flavor is described as similar to other bitter greens, such as arugula. Some foragers also eat the tap root, which is said to taste like horseradish. However, the plant does contain traces of cyanide, which is part of how it destroys the plants around it.
How do you get rid of it?
There are a variety of methods for eradicating garlic mustard, pulling being the most common. But it is a persistent weed, so it requires diligence to get rid of it, especially if it is invading wild spaces. If you are plagued by garlic mustard, please consider signing up for the MSHS webinar next week,