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A weed whose virtues were discovered

Garlic mustard showing long taproot
Garlic mustard showing long taproot
One of our worst weeds has the lovely name of Alliaria petiolata, commonly known as Garlic Mustard. Oddly enough, this weed was once (late 1800's) considered a useful herb. European settlers found it a source of Vitamin A and C and its garlic flavor could spice up salads and meats.
 
In terms of Emerson's famous quote, this was a weed whose virtues were discovered but whose disadvantages now greatly outweigh them.

Garlic mustard is one of the very worst weeds in our Midwestern woodlands and gardens. Pictured above you can see the long white tap root that enables it to survive drought and pestilence and weed whacking. These roots release phytotoxins that drive off native plants and enable Garlic Mustard to take over. The plant also releases huge amounts of seeds that can germinate any time within five years. It has chemicals toxic to native butterflies.

Now is a good time to dig it out--best done by hand--before it flowers. It is more recognizable when its small white flowers come out in May--one of the very few woodland plants with white flowers--and the only one with garlic-smelling leaves. But do not wait till June. You'll see a white taproot even on the tiniest plants.

Many people scour their neighbors' gardens for these plants so they don't end up dealing with a large amount of seedlings in their own garden.

But what if Emerson's quote can have a further meaning? What if the now "evil" weed can be redeemed (in part) because of its good qualities. I went out and plucked a leaf of garlic mustard and chewed and swallowed it. It was very tasty--a nice spicy flavor, slightly crunchy, with a definite "garlic" aftertaste. It seems to have possible use in salads. Could we remove it and have a salad at the same time? I will have to check further, but it seems that this weed may have rediscovered virtues.


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