Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata, Brassicaceae) is one of our earlier wild spring greens. With a flavor slightly reminiscent of mild arugula and roasted garlic, it makes a nice addition in salads with milder wild greens like chickweed and violets. I find that its flavor doesn’t mellow when cooked, as do many other brassicas, and so I prefer it raw. It also makes a tasty pesto, probably the most popular dish made of garlic mustard.
Native to Eurasia, and long eaten as a green there, it is thought to have first entered North America by way of Long Island, NY, known for being the point of origin for most of the problems in our country. Garlic mustard is one of the more “invasive” invasives in that it can thrive deeper in the forest, unlike most non-native opportunistic plants, who tend to stick close to the humans, and the open grounds we create. It occupies a similar niche as many spring ephemerals, like spring beauty and bloodroot, and can easily outcompete them, with its nifty biochemistry and lack of native insect and microbial predators. It appears that some compounds in garlic mustard are indirectly allelopathic (inhibiting the growth of neighboring plants), and have a negative affect on mycorrhizae (symbiotic plant root/fungal relationships). Maple and Ash trees growing in forests with garlic mustard in the understory grew much slower than the same trees in forests without garlic mustard. Even forests with a history of garlic mustard, but no live plants grew slower, presumably from a persistent compound in the soil.