My Dirt Time The Adventures of Tom Sciacca

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Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis)

"Any idea what this plant is? Almost impossible to not get it right once you smell the root."

Answer: Garlic Mustard

Facts as borrowed from Wildman Steve Brill:

Garlic mustard, also called Jack-by-the-hedge and sauce-alone, defends itself from insects by smelling like garlic, which insects don't like. Of course, if a swarm of Italian insects finds it, the plant soon becomes extinct.

This erect European herb of open woodlands and disturbed soil has dark green, heart-shaped, scallop-edged, deeply veined, long-stalked basal leaves that grow up to 5" across.

The stalked stem leaves are smaller and more triangular. The garlic odor is apparent when you crush a leaf.

Look for the basal rosettes from fall to early spring. The leaves survive the winter, and you can even find them under the snow.

The leaves contain natural anti-freezes that lower the freezing point of water. Caution: Never put garlic mustard leaves into a car radiator. It's not that kind of anti-freeze.

Many plants become more bitter as they mature. But garlic mustardís arrowhead-shaped stem leaves are more pungent and less bitter in the spring, than the basal leaves were in the cold. They even carry overtones of sweetness. Theyíre easy to strip off, so you can collect bagfuls in short order, along with the terminal clusters of tiny, four-petaled, tasty, white flowers.

Garlic mustard is great raw in salads, mixed with more mild greens. It's also good steamed, simmered, or sautČed. In Europe, they use it in sauces. Cook no longer than five minutes, or the leaves will become mushy.

Sometimes you'll find garlic mustard with exceptionally large leaves. These may have large, whitish, fleshy taproots, which taste like horseradish. They're good from late fall to early spring, before the flower stalks appear. 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.

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