Garlic Mustard Plant Profile

Garlic Mustard Plant

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Otherwise known as the Alliaria Petiolata, the biennial garlic mustard plant forms clumps of round, wrinkled leaves in its first year of growth. And not surprisingly, when these leaves are crushed, they smell like garlic (its genus name resembles Allium, which is another nod to their garlic-like odor). All parts of the plant (roots included) will give off a distinct odor of garlic. Despite their smell--and the fact that they are often considered an invasive weed--the garlic mustard can be a quite tasty and even nutritious plant.

One of the oldest spices in Europe, the garlic mustard plant produces dense clusters of cross-shaped white flowers. As the flowering stems bloom, they elongate into more of a spike-like shape. When the flowering is complete, these plants will produce upright fruits that release seeds in mid-summer.

Early European settlers first brought this particular herb to use as a garlicky flavoring, but it was also used medicinally as both a diuretic as well as a disinfectant. The herb was sometimes even planted as a form of erosion control. Today, the plant's chopped leaves are sometimes used in salads and sauces (including pesto); when the leaves are young, they taste like both garlic and mustard. It's rich in vitamins A and C and also makes a spicy addition to sandwiches and cooked entrees. 

Often found growing around the outside of hedges, under trees, along fences, and in the shadows of bushes, the plant earned the moniker "jack-by-the-hedge" in Britain. The garlic mustard plant has also come to be called hedge garlic, sauce-alone, poor man's mustard, jack-in-the-bush, and garlic root.

Botanical Name Alliaria Petiolata
Common Name Garlic mustard
Plant Type Biennial
Mature Size 1-4 feet
Sun Exposure Shade
Soil Type Wet soil
Soil pH 5-7
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 4-5
Native Area Northeast, Midwest, Southeastern Canada

How to Grow Garlic Mustard Plants

Garlic Mustard comes from the Brassicaceae family, a botanical name that includes an array of plants known for their vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant profiles. Garlic mustard is considered a choice edible plant in Europe, but is considered more of an invasive species in the northeastern United States. In fact, it's listed as a noxious (or harmful) weed in every state where it grows. Deer don't like to eat garlic mustard, and it's also toxic to some rare butterflies...and all while being potentially damaging to native flora (it produces allelopathic compounds that can limit seed germination in other species).

What's unique about garlic mustard is that, unlike similar botanicals like ginseng, goldenseal, and elderberries, these plants can be considered somewhat mysterious--they invade forests that haven't been logged or cleared, and seem to have the ability to completely displace native vegetation thanks to its prolific growth. It may have originally been introduced in the mid-1800s for food and medicine, but today it's a dominant plant on the forest floor in the eastern part of the country...and is generally considered an invasive weed.

However, should you choose to grow garlic mustard at home, the best way to manage these particular plants (and other similar species) is to provide optimum conditions for these native understory plants.

Light

Garlic mustard is competitive in a wide range of soils, sunlight, shade and moisture. However, these plants tend to prefer dark, shady places, such as the edges of woods and hedges. As such, they can often be found in abundance growing on the shaded floor of moist, deciduous forests.

Soil

The plant will grow rapidly in moist soil. They can be frequently found near disturbed areas like trails, shaded roadsides, hedgerows, and forest edges.

Water

Garlic mustard tends to grow near bodies of water, such as creeks, and they can tolerate more frequent rain or watering.

Temperature and Humidity

The garlic mustard is a cool-weather plant that blooms its first flowers in April.

Fertilizer

A single garlic mustard plant can produce hundreds of seeds, which often scatter and can live in the ground for five years (and travel on the bottoms of shoes or even car tires). Depending upon the conditions, garlic mustard flowers can either self-fertilize or be cross-pollinated by an array of insects, such as flies and bees. Plants that grow from self-fertilized seeds can be genetically identical to their parent plant, which will enhance its ability to thrive in various places.

Propagating Garlic Mustard

The seeds of a garlic mustard plant must lay dormant for at least a year before germinating in the spring. Cold stratification will be required to trigger seed germination.