Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hope, Despair and Garlic Mustard

Today was my first big garlic mustard pulling day of the season. Hopefully most of you are familiar with this European culinary plant gone nasty invasive species. If not, you can learn more about why it is important to remove garlic mustard from your property at

Many municipalities actually have ordinances about removing it and other invasive species as well. In Hartland we are instructed to put in plastic bags to be picked up with the garbage. You don't want to compost it as the seeds don't die and then get spread around to make more garlic mustard!

The first garlic mustard pulling day of the year brings out the optimist in me. I look out at the garlic mustard plants popping up over my 1.5 acres and actually believe that this year I will be one step closer to eradicating it. Without needing to look, my fingers find the bulge on the stem where the plant branches out. I grasp, wiggle and pull straight up. Pure satisfaction with every pull. This plant is so easy to remove that toddlers can help. I pull another, then another and pretty soon I am clearing a noticeable section of my treeline. As I pull I discover ferns, jack in the pulpit and wild ginger and I imagine that I am freeing these woodland flowers from a greedy captor. By this time I am hooked. I know I should get to my other tasks for the day, but, I tell myself (over and over), "I'll just finish this section, then I'll stop". I've read that if you pull all your garlic mustard for 7 years, you could actually eliminate it from your yard. This is because the seeds can stay dormant that long. This doesn't take into account seeds blowing in from your neighbors yard, but this morning I choose to ignore this. Every spring, I ask my family, "Doesn't it look like we have less this year?" They all know that I need to hear only one possible answer so they tell me "Yes, Mom", but I can see in my 11 year-old daughter's eyes that we are only staying slightly ahead.


Later in the day I stopped by Courtney's house knowing that she might be able to relate to this insane spring optimism. Instead, I found her in a state of garden despair. She had been clearly working hard in her gardens and was defeated by the weeds that were spreading everywhere despite her annual attempts to rip them out. "I'm ready to sell my house and move to an apartment! What is the point?", she told me. I've been there. I've said the same to my family, although this despair usually doesn't hit until July. I'll walk out to my gardens and tell the weeds they've won and I just don't care- and for the most part I let them take the lead for the rest of the summer. It was a shock to face up to this possibility in April. Green gardening and lawn care really is more work. We need to give ourselves credit and some understanding for all those who reach for the Weed-be-gone. It certainly would be easier to squirt something toxic at those devil weeds rather than spend the afternoon on my knees with dirt under my fingernails. But, now that we know what we know about these chemicals in squirt bottles, we really have not other choice. So, at least for this month I push the possibility of despair aside and decide to make pizza.


Garlic mustard came to this country as an herb. When you pull it, you can certainly smell the garlicy aroma. I'd like to believe that those European settlers would have chosen to leave it behind if they knew what would have happened to our Wisconsin woodlands, but of course they just wanted dinner. In the spirit of the saying "If you can't beat them, join them" I decided to use this stuff for its intended purpose and made pesto. You can follow your favorite basil pesto recipe and substitute all or part of the basil with garlic mustard. If you don't have a recipe, check this one out from Monches Farm.
Last weekend I mixed some with cream cheese and made a yummy spread for crackers. Tonight we had garlic mustard pesto pizza. I know in my heart that I can't get rid of this stuff, but in the meantime I'll enjoy it!

If anyone else has good Garlic Mustard Recipes, please share!

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