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Alliaria petiolata

Ubiquitous and nutritious, this wild vegetable has been collected and eaten by humans for thousands of years.  The earliest evidence of garlic mustard being prepared as food,  dates from around 4000 BC in the Netherlands, but probably it was consumed for millennia prior to even that.

As the common name suggests, Alliaria is a member of the mustard/cabbage family, the Brassicales; both, horseradish-y bite and four petaled flowers give away its relation to other cruciferous food plants, wild and domesticated.  

The young leaves are tender and a little sweet, with a bit of mustard heat, a hint of garlic scent, a touch of almond nuttiness, and a mild bitterness.  After this biennial plant blooms, the bitterness becomes strong and unpleasant, but the flowers still can be used as edible decoration and soon the tiny seeds can be used like mustard.  Innige winter, the thin roots can be used like horseradish, but they are thin and fibrous, and fiddly to work with.  The slight hint of almond flavour of garlic mustard is due to trace amounts of amygdalin (a naturally occurring cyanogenic glucoside used by many plants as a defense mechanism, especially in seeds and flower buds) which breaks down into benzaldehyde and cyanide when chewed, so moderation, as with most things in life, is indicated when consuming hedge mustard.

My favourite ways to use Alliaria are  using the very young leaves raw in salads, or the young, prebloom stalks, leaves, and buds as a lactoferment, a green, mustardy sauerkraut, full of flavour, vitamins and probiotics. This lactoferment is delicious in grilled cheese sandwiches throughout the year, and a good substitute for fermented mustard greens in Chinese dishes.

In May, when the leaves have grown quite large, they can be used to wrap foodparcels, such as rice or minced meat, to make cabbage rolls or dolmades.

The plants differ significantly in flavour, depending on location, weather and time of year.  Therefore, it is well worth one‘s while to nibble a leaf whenever one comes across hedge mustard.  Don’t be put off if you are finding them unpalatable, and try again earlier next year with younger plants!

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