How we come to know the food we eat and which food is good to eat is very much a cultural phenomenon. And these cultural ideas change over time. Take, for example, garlic mustard. Today, we know it as a ‘weed’ and as an ‘invasive species’. For some, particularly those who take the time to get to know the food bounty that nature provides us outside of what is found in grocery stores, it is also known as a delicious edible green.
But the way that garlic mustard came to North America was as a cultivated plant that settlers from Europe wanted to grow in their gardens as a salad green. As the settlers spread, so did the garlic mustard. As settlers abandoned it as a cultivated food source, its hardiness and agressive nature led it to a second life as an invasive weed that chokes out native plants in parks, ditches, and just about anywhere it finds itself.
Now I harvest it from the parks and ravines of Toronto for a delicious, nutritious (and free) treat. But terms such as ‘weed’ and ‘invasive species’ always make me think about the ways in which we understand these concepts and how we apply them. Because, really, those of us of European descent who live in North America can also be labelled an ‘invasive species’. We spread, taking over land from the inhabitants who existed here before we arrived, depriving them of the resources that they needed to exist. And, as we spread, we brought other invasive botanical species with us that took over land, depriving land and nutrients to other food sources that Indigenous peoples used before we arrived. These invasions are connected; invasive species aren’t a neutral phenomenon but one connected to European colonization. In that vein, check out a cool project headed up by Indigenous peoples in Lekwungen territories (Victoria, BC) to remove invasive species and allow Indigenous food sources to flourish again.
Back to garlic mustard: what does it taste like? Well… garlic. And it has that mustard bitterness and bite to it. It’s best harvested earlier in the season when the leaves are tender and less bitter but I harvested these in early June and if you do it later, keep to the smaller top leaves of the plants to minimize the bitterness that comes from the larger, more mature leaves. And I should also mention, you should be careful when harvesting garlic mustard later in the season so as not to spread the seeds around even further!
As with any pesto recipe, this one is incredibly flexible. Pesto can be made with almost any green, almost any nut (and some seeds!), and any of the hard cheeses like parmesan, asiago or romano work well. So, this (and really any pesto) recipe is more of a suggestion or a template for you to experiment with, to make to your tastes. As you blend, taste it. Do you want more tang? Add some lemon juice. More garlic? More cheese? More salt? Do it your way. Here’s how I did it this time around:
(I’ll also have some recipes coming up soon with different ideas on how to use this pesto in different ways! Like this Warm, German Styled Potato Salad.)
Garlic Mustard Pesto
Garlicky wild greens turned into a delicious pesto!
- 3 cups packed garlic mustard leaves, rinse before using
- 2/3 cup walnuts
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- salt & pepper, to taste
Put ingredients into food processor or blender (or even use an immersion blender) and pulse until smooth. If need be, slowly add more oil to get the consistency of paste that you want (I like mine pretty firm). Taste as you go along to adjust to your preferences.