Backyard Foraging: Garlic Mustard Pesto and Hosta Shoots
They say in Spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love. I must be jaded, because as the days lengthen and the air softens, all I can think about is foraging for spring greens. Fortunately, you don’t have to wander far afield to make one of my favorite dishes…you’ll need one common weed and one familiar garden plant. Both may already be in your own backyard!
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive weed. No two ways about it. This biennial plant produces seeds that remain viable for up to five years and it produces chemical compounds that suppress the germination or growth of neighboring, competing plants. This is called allelopathy, and as a result garlic mustard crowds out a lot of less aggressive plants, reducing woodland diversity.
First year foliage grows in a rosette of heart shaped leaves with toothed margins. Second year leaves are elongated and the plant produces a flower stalk with white, four-petalled flowers in early summer. For culinary purposes, you’ll want to use the tender, first-year leaves of garlic mustard, but go ahead and yank the plant out by the root — if you can. Garlic mustard has a taproot, and won’t give up its ground without a fight.
Garlic mustard pesto is a forager’s classic. Since the leaves taste like garlic and are green, they take the place of both garlic and basil in pesto. This plant is insanely nutritious, higher in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamins C & E and zinc than either spinach or kale. It’s also very high in calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.
The garden plant:
Hostas are one of the world’s most popular shade plants, and usually they’re grown for their beauty alone. But in Japan, young hosta shoots are served as a vegetable dish called urui. Petioles (leaf stems) of Hosta sieboldii are skinned and parboiled, then chopped and served over rice. In northern Japan the hosta H. montana is grown as a commercial crop. Plants are cultivated in greenhouses and kept covered to blanch and tenderize the foliage.
Don’t worry, you can grow your hosta and eat it, too. To preserve the beauty of the hostas in your garden, harvest from the outer ring of shoots in early spring before the leaves unfurl. As the leaves at the center of your plant expand, they’ll hide where you’ve harvested.
Now, to the kitchen!
First published April 2014