Foraging Wild Shoots: Garlic-mustard

Among my favorite wild vegetables of spring are the tender, fast-growing shoots of Garlic-mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Photo of Garlic-mustard

Garlic-mustard commonly grows in large groups, in partial to heavy shade, and often in an area with recent soil disturbance. Once established, this non-native biennial vigorously reseeds and can quickly displace native plants.  Seedlings can carpet the ground near second-year plants, as the following photo shows.

Photo of Garlic-mustard Seedlings

When crushed, Garlic-mustard leaves give off a strong garlicky aroma. Samuel Thayer, in his excellent book Nature's Garden, introduced me to my favorite part of this plant: the mild-tasting shoots. In mid-to-late April, plants who have overwintered send up shoots in preparation for flowering.  The tender top portions of these shoots can be harvested at the lowest place that they snap cleanly and can be enjoyed raw, or, as I prefer them, cooked.  The shoot in the following photo has had a few lower leaves removed and is of typical size.

Photo of Garlic-mustard Shoot

If you don't already know this plant, I recommend seeking out colonies when they are blooming this spring, which is now in southern New England and soon farther north.  Clusters of four-petaled white flowers help this 1-3' plant stand out.

Photo of Garlic-mustard Flowers

Up close, notice the fine hairs on the leaf stalks and the coarsely toothed, triangular upper leaves. Look for Garlic-mustard along roadsides, in other disturbed areas, and, increasingly, in forests with rich soils.  While this plant often grows in polluted areas that are inappropriate for foraging, you can nonetheless get familiar with this wild mustard (Garlic-mustard is a member of the Brassicaceae family) in preparation for when you do find some plants growing somewhere safe.  With this fieldwork and additional research, next spring you'll know where to look to find plants to sample before they flower.

2 thoughts on “Foraging Wild Shoots: Garlic-mustard”

  1. good to know, I have a huge stand growing behind one of my composting areas. Next year I will gather before the flowers emerge, do you cook it any certain way?? tamari? steam or stir fry? sounds great, soups?

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