Garlic Mustard - If You Can't Beat 'Em, Eat 'Em
Enjoying some garlic mustard in the Ambler Arboretum.
Kathy Salisbury

By Kathy Salisbury
Director, Ambler Arboretum

During a recent weekend, Ambler Arboretum volunteers participated in a Garlic Mustard Weed and Eat. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant, meaning that it causes ecological harm by outcompeting native plants and changing the ecosystem it invades. In this case, Garlic Mustard can actually change the soil, making it inhospitable for native plants and it releases natural growth-regulating chemicals to stop plants around it from competing. While this plant has evolved with natural checks and balances where it is native, in this region there are no biological controls for garlic mustard. 

This is a great time of the year for weeding garlic mustard because it is flowering now and relatively easy to identify.  Here is a YouTube video about Garlic Mustard from the Ambler YouTube page. We want to remove it while it is flowering to prevent seeds from being spread. 

Garlic Mustard is growing throughout the Arboretum, but luckily, it was first brought to the United States by colonizers as food and medicine. It has escaped cultivation and invaded our minimally managed areas, but it is still edible and some may even say delicious. 

So, Cat Meholic, Natural Gardens Horticulturist, put together an opportunity for volunteers to help the Arboretum while also trying something new. Our 15 volunteers were taught how to identify garlic mustard and sent to an area where it was growing to remove it. They spent 30 people-hours removing these biennial weeds. Once they had pulled a big pile of it, the time came to process the plants for leaves to make pesto.  

Volunteers removed leaves from the stems until they had two packed cups of garlic mustard leaves, they added these leaves to a pesto kit they were provided, which included pasta from the new pasta shop in Ambler, Sorrentino Pasta and Provisions; a sample of coffee from the new coffee shop, Retro Coffee; and olive oil, sunflower seeds, parmesan cheese and a recipe with instructions. 

The day was a great success! Hundreds of plants removed, meaning thousands of plants that will never grow and we all got to enjoy a tasty meal afterward!