Where did it come from?
Garlic mustard was introduced to Long Island from Europe as a culinary herb in the 1860s by early colonists. The young leaves were harvested and added to salads for their mild mustard and garlic flavour. It didn’t take long for this aggressive plant to escape cultivated gardens and invade the rest of North America.
Culinary and medical uses of garlic mustard
The greens of garlic mustard are considered very nutritional, having some significant amounts of vitamin A, C, E, and some B. In its native European countries, woodsmen used to harvest the plant in late winter and early spring, when few other green edible plants were available.
More than just a plant for salads, garlic mustard was considered to possess medical properties. When ingested, the leaves of the plant induce sweating, which was thought to help cure respiratory illnesses including asthma and bronchitis. It was also considered to help with other skin problems such as eczema, rheumatism and gout.
Getting rid of it
The best way to control an infestation in the garden is by hand-pulling, but make sure you get all the roots. Since this invasive species spreads by seed, removing the plants before they flower is ideal. Each plant can produce over 1,000 seeds, but one of the reasons why this plant is so prolific is because the seeds remain viable in the soil for up to five years. For this reason, once a garden has been invaded, the site must be monitored for several years and new plants dealt with accordingly. Since the seeds are so invasive, the plant should not be composted, as it can easily germinate in the compost bin and then spread to the rest of the garden.
Using a weed wiper is also an option to deal with a large garlic mustard infestation, but this method does not eliminate the roots and seeds.
Photo by Sannse.