Monday, May 4, 2015

Noxious Nosh

This year, I added a new plant to my foraging repertoire. One of my favorite websites is Eat the Invaders, a listing of edible invasive species. One of the most noxious invasive plants in North America is garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), known as Jack-by-the-Hedge in England, a Brassicacous Eurasian plant which is supplanting native woodland herbage throughout the continent. The plant has a tendency to kill the native fungi which have mutualistic symbiotic relationships with native plants. By killing the beneficial fungi, the plant can take over habitats that it is introduced into. It's also delicious.

Like a lot of foragable edibles, garlic mustard was initially introduced to the New World as a vegetable and medicinal plant. Foraging maestro Steve Brill compares the long taproot with horseradish, hilariously noting:

Use them like horseradish, grated into vinegar, as a condiment. I love chopping these roots into thin slices, and handing them out to children during classroom visits. Overwhelmed by the pungency, chaos reigns as the kids rush to the water fountain. Then they all want seconds.

I'd have to concur. The greens taste a lot like broccoli rabe, having a pungency which I particularly like, but which might not please all palates. The immature flowers even look like broccoli rabe flowers:




The mature flowers are white and cross-shaped:




Once you can identify the plants, you will see them everywhere, which is why you must eat them... if you want to save the forest, grab them and devour them.

I grabbed a bagful of garlic mustard and a bagful of nettles, plus a handful of young dandelion leaves. I am planning on making a hortopita with these greens. Mixing the greens is a good idea, because I forage opportunistically, taking whatever is available, and because mixing the greens tempers the pungency or bitterness of the more "challenging" ones- the nettles are tasty but somewhat bland, the perfect foil to the dandelions and garlic mustard. Additionally, some of these greens contain high amounts of oxylates, so it's good to mix them up.

This time of year, I almost never buy salad greens, because there's such a bounty of feral foods. Most of these plants are "forgotten" vegetables, once valued culinarily, but now sadly neglected. In their neglect, they've "left the farm", usually to become pests. If more of us valued them, and used them, we can stop them from being so pernicious.

5 comments:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Looks vaguely familiar, I'll take a walk around my current location (Ashburn, Va.) and see if I can spot any.
~

mikey said...

Frankly, 'bitter' and 'pungent' typically describes flavors I'd prefer to avoid.

In fact, an evo-devo type would tell you that we developed an aversion to bitter flavors in order to better avoid consuming natural toxins...

Smut Clyde said...

Human beings are an invasive species, just saying.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Looks vaguely familiar, I'll take a walk around my current location (Ashburn, Va.) and see if I can spot any.

It's taking over the continent. Time to fight back, deliciously.

In fact, an evo-devo type would tell you that we developed an aversion to bitter flavors in order to better avoid consuming natural toxins...

It's the dose that makes the poison. A lot of alkaloids are bitter but are valued as stimulants. Also, consider chiles- capsaicin evolved to repel mammals, the peppers typically being eaten by birds that could spread the seeds more efficiently. I love the hot stuff, "repellent" be damned.

Human beings are an invasive species, just saying.

Oh, yeah, the most pernicious of them all.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Frankly, 'bitter' and 'pungent' typically describes flavors I'd prefer to avoid.

It's funny how certain culinary traditions value these flavors. Italian cuisine and a lot of Asian cuisines value a certain amount of bitter flavor- it takes a certain knack to temper and balance the bitterness. I bitter greens like arugula, watercress and radicchio, but I certainly recognize that a lot of people would find them repulsive.