Garlic mustard has lost its appeal

  • Follow Gardening

Like most drawn-out affairs, this one ended with rancor.

Lee Reich/Associated Press
Garlic mustard comes from a very good family. It’s not the garlic family, but the mustard family, which might also be called the cabbage family. This accounts for the bluish cast to the leaves.

A friend had introduced me to garlic mustard, our meeting coming at a time when I could look fondly upon any wild edible plant. That was many years ago, yet for the past couple of years tensions between us have escalated.

In retrospect, I can't really understand the attraction I had for garlic mustard. True, the name was appealing: You would think that any plant combining the flavors of garlic and mustard would have elicited affection that would linger, even grow, over the years.

Yet I can now look back with a clear mind and remember finding the taste ho-hum at best, biting at worst.

Beauty could not have held the relationship together either. Again, garlic mustard's appearance is ho-hum at best, ugly at worst. Picture a plant that in its first year grows a whorl of heart-shaped leaves. These leaves have teeth at their edges, and their slightly bluish cast further contributes to an ominous undercurrent. In the plants' second year, four-petaled white flowers open atop stalks rising from the centers of the whorls.

Surprisingly, garlic mustard comes from a good family. It's not the garlic family but the mustard family, which might also be called the cabbage family. This accounts for the leaves' bluish cast. Garlic mustard's kin includes such delectable edibles as cabbage, kale, bok choy and cauliflower, as well as such beauties as alyssum, armeria, lunaria and dame's rocket. (The last is also a weed, but one for which I have developed increasing affection. I've even moved it into my garden.)

Well, every family has its black sheep.

Still, biting flavor and homely appearance are not what have turned me sour toward garlic mustard. What has done so is its persistence in trying to insinuate itself into my life. It's now just about everywhere, gallivanting around in nearly everyone's yard. There is just too much of it.

The one positive thing I can still say for garlic mustard is that it is easy to weed out.

I realize I've been scarred. I'm now a bit wary about letting loose my affections on some other plants, fearing those relationships also may someday sour. My attachment to salsify, for example, bears some frightening parallels to my former feelings for garlic mustard.

Salsify is also a traveler from Europe that has found American soil to its liking, becoming a weed in some places. So far, however, I cannot restrain my affection for this interloper. Salsify does taste good: The swollen roots cook up to a rich flavor echoing that of mushrooms and oysters. (It's sometimes called oyster plant.) And salsify is pretty, its sunny, daisy-like heads opening atop tall stalks.

Still, weeding the garden yesterday, I did notice, for the first time, quite a few salsify seedlings popping up at some distance from the older plants. Is this the beginning of the end - again?

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