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Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
  • Jim Hillibish: Garlic mustard hated as weed, loved as herb

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  • Nature-food fans love it. Gardeners hate it. The only thing for sure about wild garlic mustard weed is that we’ve got it bad, and it’s getting worse every year.
    This is the strangest of weeds. People eat it. That’s how it arrived here from Europe. As an herb, it has a pronounced garlic taste combined with peppery mustard. It’s not bad on a salad, as a tea or ground into a pesto for sauces.
    Health wise, it’s main attribute is a high Vitamin C content, one of the forms not involving citrus.
    Normally, weeds such as these that emerge in early spring are controlled by deer. They hate this garlic-smelling weed and totally ignore it.
    With no predator, the weed spreads fast and has taken over vast areas of our local forests. One plant produces hundreds of seeds that float on the breezes. Our parks organize local patrols to pull it. If you have two in your landscape and allow them to go to seed, you soon will have 200, then 400, then 800 and on and on.
    It grows everywhere in moist soil, even in the dark shade of the deep forest where it crowds out spring wild flowers.
    Vegetable gardeners find it a voracious consumer of soil nutrients at the expense of cultivated plants. These guys grow in sidewalk cracks, in the crushed limestone of highway medians and even in the dirt and leaves in gutters.
    If you want to try eating them, be careful to find plants not treated with herbicide. Fresh ones should be rapidly growing without withered or dried leaves. Nothing is easier to find.
    Pesto is a good start for the uninitiated. It’s a traditional Italian technique to preserve culinary herbs of all sort. This flavor-packed paste is moderated by nuts and ground Italian cheese, good stuff in sauces, salad dressings and smeared on poultry, seafood or garden-fresh tomatoes.
    Contact Jim Hillibish at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com, or on Twitter @jhillibishREP.
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