A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

From Pest to Pesto! A Garlic Mustard Delight

This post was contributed by Armina Del Toro, Wave Hill’s School Programs Manager.

The third year of the Wave Hill-Bronx Institute Salamander Project came to a close on Saturday, May 22, 2010. Salamander Project teens―25 students from MS280-Mosholu Parkway and MS 505-The Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice―and their families came to Wave Hill to watch the students describe their experiences and present their scientific findings for 2010. But before students and families began sharing, they had a chance to learn how a pesky weed could make for a tasty plate.

Salamander Project teens spent many hours this summer collecting data to determine the relationship between salamander populations and invasive plants―garlic mustard, chickweed, bedstraw and Japanese knotweed, to name just a few―in Riverdale Park. They had been curious about the name Garlic Mustard and some students were brave enough to take a nibble of the leaf to experience that garlicky taste. But it did not end there. One afternoon, with go-ahead from Wave Hill’s Director of  Horticulture, Scott Canning, the teens spent an hour pulling garlic mustard weeds from Wave Hill’s Woodlands.  Such was the students’ enthusiasm that they collected seven large bags in one hour.

Often repeated by the teens, the question “What do we do with all this garlic mustard?”  got us thinking “What would Laurel and Charley do” (Laurel Rimmer is Wave Hill’s Assistant Director of Public Programs, and Charles Day the Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter.) Cook with it? Why not?

Now, over the previous five weeks the students explored ways of disposing weeds and household vegetable products, investigating Wave Hill’s worm bin and learning that this was one way to mimic processes that naturally occur in the environment. After the worm bin, the students learned about the value of composting and other disposal methods. However, we had never discussed other methods of weed disposal, specifically what can be done with edible plants like Garlic Mustard.  

Corinne Flax (Wave Hill Environmental Educator), Marjorie Lune (Bank Street Intern) and yours truly pulled and washed the garlic mustard leaves, prepared the blender, cut bread and laid out all the ingredients for Garlic Mustard Pesto. The delicious smell engulfed the entire room and even we were prone to sneak a taste.  

The students were hesitant to taste it, but after carefully dipping a corner of bread into the pesto sauce, they took the ultimate plunge, giving the recipe a taste.  There was much scrunching of faces at first, but then their eyebrows lifted and smiles appeared on their faces as almost everyone agreed “It’s not bad”!  Some of the students even really liked the pesto―and all of the instructors thought it was delicious. 

It was a fitting end to a great program and an invasive weed, proving that we have some great ideas for cooking with invasive plants…Move over Rachel Ray, we’ve got Pest to Pesto, Perfecto!

Pesto Petiolata (or Garlic-Mustard Pesto)

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnut pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, about 1 ounce
4 cups garlic mustard leaves (Alliaria petiolata) or 2 cups garlic mustard with 2 cups basil leaves

Place all of the ingredients except the basil in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the garlic mustard and/or basil a handful at a time. Blend until all of the greens are incorporated and the pesto is smooth. Makes about 1 cup.

We gratefully credit Whitewater Valley Land Trust for this inspired concoction!

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