Recently I’ve been rushing home after work to spend the last few hours of sunlight in the arboretum near my house. With a paper bag in hand I’ve been sampling some truly local delights like reishi mushrooms, garlic mustard, mulberries and clover flowers. Though initially intimidated, I soon realized that you don’t have to be a mycologist or botanist to be able to learn a few easily identifiable edibles.
Chicken of the woods mushroom, for example, doesn’t have any poisonous look-alikes and is very easy to identify.
Savory garlic mustard is a ubiquitous invasive plant that was originally introduced in the 1860s as a culinary herb. It’s very easy to spot because of its scalloped-edged leaves and teeny white flowers and if you rub the leaves between your fingers a garlicy aroma will quickly emerge.
Pulling up the invasive weed also does the forest a favor because it gives native plants more room to grow. Garlic mustard, and foraged greens in general, may have more antioxidants (phytonutrients) than store-bought vegetables because farmers haven’t bred them for sweetness, size, and uniformity over time. The result: unadulterated and uninhibited flavor.
As the name implies the garlic mustard leaves have a bright sharpness to them, perfect for pesto or spicy salads.
In the pesto recipe below, the nuts and parmesan help temper some of the garlic mustard’s aromatic kick. Slather over whole wheat pasta for a summery picnic lunch or atop some sweet strawberries for flavor and color contrast.
As a self-proclaimed urban forager I’ve been known to “forage” for free samples at upscale grocery stores but those cheap thrills can’t compare to the real thing. The process of searching for your own food has an evolutionary rightness to it. Foraging has made me more aware of the details in nature: shapes of leaves and mushroom gills, smells, colors etc. Identifying each find is a puzzle that gets easier the more you eat.
Foraged Garlic Mustard Pesto
Inspired by Ava Chin
- 3 cups garlic mustard leaves (not stems or seed pods)
- 1 cup toasted walnuts, sunflower seeds, or cashews
- ¾ cup olive oil
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Salt to taste
I wash the garlic mustard leaves by doing this little ritual 3 times: submerge the leaves in a bowl of water, take them out, dump the water/dirt, put the leaves back in the bowl, repeat. Yes, this wastes water but with foraged food there are more dirt and bugs than usual.
Then, in a food processor blend the garlic mustard, nuts, and parmesan. Drizzle in the olive oil and add salt to your liking. Eat.