Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)--Still not convinced

It is so satisifying to eat invasive plants. We feel like we are doing our (albeit miniscule) part in cutting down the population and getting culinary and nutrition benefits as well. So garlic mustard keeps calling to us; it grows everywhere, smells good, and looks delicious.

But the taste, well...

Last year we tried the leaves in a stir fry and had to pick them out they were so unpleasantly bitter. This year we have done our research and have read that the early leaf stalks of the second year plants before the flowers have arrived should be much, much less bitter--tasty even.

So on our Easter trip to Connecticut (the garlic mustard here isn't even three inches tall) we gathered a bunch. We dutifully stripped them of their leaves, washed them, boiled them for five minutes (until they were tender), and tossed them with toasted buttered breadcrumbs. This should make any vegetable taste good. It was unpalatalbe. Neither of us could eat more than two bites.

So what are we doing wrong? These weren't just slightly bitter; they were horrible--like fully grown dandelion leaves.

There are several possibilities. Garlic mustard just tastes bad. (We are suspicious of this because we've read people we respect who think the opposite.) We prepared them incorrectly. (Again, we followed others' advice.) We got a bad patch. (Possible--we all know there are certain blueberry bushes that produce sweeter berries than others.) Any ideas? Advice? Experience?

I'm ready to write the whole plant off. Thag says we should try again.


  1. I have heard similar things, and I'd say maybe a bad patch? We have some growing in our yard (in CT) that are pretty darn tasty as babies. Lightly bitter and garlicy, but certainly as palatable as arugula. I'd bed growing areas matter as well. We've even been able to just toss ours raw into salads-I'd say sample a tiny bit of a raw leaf- if it's way too bitter, it's gonna stay that way.

  2. There are plenty of bitter vegetables that I don't love by themselves but do love in small amounts with carbs. Well, I guess I love broccoli raab by itself but I really love it with gnocchi. Maybe try the garlic mustard with some pasta or potatoes? I liked the leaves fine sauteed with a pasta and cheese-bechamel last year.

  3. Yeah, last night I had garlic mustard as a side to a cornmeal-egg-dandelion bud "pancake."

    The dandelion buds were fabulous, the garlic mustard, inedible. Go figure, maybe this invasive decided to evolve unpalatability in this area.

    I'll give it another shot by boiling just the stems as you did here, without the leaves, but if that doesn't work it's going to be demoted to a flavor herb, not an actual vegetable.

  4. A hint from Europe: Alliaria is best raw and a few leaves in salads are jolly. Cooked: quelle horreur!

  5. I've heard that one should prepare the immature seed pods; not the stalks, as you have described. 'Haven't tried it so can't comment from experience.

    Also, the young leaves or flower heads should probably be used as one would use an herb--in small quanities for flavour and colour, not as a side dish by itself.

    I use the young leaves this way in soups. 'Just as I might use chopped chives or parsley.