Invasive garlic mustard -- can't beat it? Eat it!
Natalie Price of Butler Township is accompanied by her dog, Cheyenne, while pulling garlic mustard in McConnells Mill State Park near the parking lot of the Hell's Hollow Trail. Ms. Price and others have asked volunteers to pull the plant, which is invasive.
Garlic mustard was brought to America by colonists because it?s edible.
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The tiny white flowers of the wildflower garlic mustard sway in the wind along Hell's Hollow Trail in McConnells Mill State Park as Natalie Price gently pulls up the plants at their roots.
Threat of rain and temperatures in the 40s kept the volunteer turnout low, but Ms. Price, 60, of Butler Township, and Cindy Webreck, 59, of Butler, were happy to get any help they could. They organized the effort to eradicate the invasive, prolific garlic mustard. Both women are officers of The Moraine, McConnells Mill, Jennings Commission, an environmental group.
This is the fifth year the two have visited this part of the park and Ms. Webreck believes they actually are gaining ground on the weed.
"The first year we didn't even get to the end of the trail and we had 33 large garden waste bags full of garlic mustard," she said.
This season they ended up with 16 bags.
Garlic mustard was introduced to North America by settlers in the 1800s. They enjoyed eating it because of its zesty garlic-like flavor, and it still can be used to make sauces and as a garnish. But without predators, garlic mustard took over forests across the country. Ironically, in its native Europe, the plant is a treasured spring wildflower, but here - in the wild or in a woodsy yard - even the deer won't eat it.
Nancy Gift, 39, is the author of "A Weed By Any Other Name" and is acting director of the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University. She has watched as the plant has overtaken woodlands and said it's incredibly invasive. "It produces really prolifically by seed and, at the same time, it can spread by roots and lives a long time," she said.
The plant also can interfere with many native plants' ability to bond with beneficial fungi in the soil, she added.
Getting to the plants before they go to seed is important, she said, because the seedpods explode when something brushes against them and seeds can fly 10 feet, continuing the invasion.
Volunteers at Hell's Hollow were there just in time as the seed pods were beginning to form. After pulling up the plants, Ms. Price hit the roots against a tree to leave as much dirt behind as possible. "You don't want to hurt the environment by making matters worse and getting rid of the topsoil," she said.
Garlic mustard outcompetes many native wildflowers forming a monoculture in the woods. It also affects the ecosystem by disrupting insects such as the West Virginia White Butterfly, which uses toothwort as a host plant. When toothwort is crowded out by garlic mustard, the butterfly will lay eggs on the garlic mustard, but the eggs are unable to develop.
Ms. Webreck took two volunteers with her as she ventured deeper into the forest and explained why she makes the annual pilgrimage here.
"This trail happens to be one of my favorite spots, and I hate to see it overrun by the garlic mustard. If we keep going over the same area, we can keep it out of here."
Everyone involved believes one great way to eliminate the invasive plant is to teach people about its edible properties.
"If enough people go out and harvest it and eat it, that will certainly help to control it," Ms. Price said with a smile.
Garlic mustard can be used as a salad green all year and the leaves are available even in winter. The roots also are edible and should be harvested before the plant flowers. The seeds of the plant can be a spicy condiment. Be sure to harvest the weeds from areas that have not been sprayed.
"I think if a person is camping and they want to add something fresh and green to their packed foods, why not take some garlic mustard because wherever it is, it shouldn't be," Ms. Gift said.
The Moraine, McConnells Mill, Jennings Commission is looking for volunteers to help battle invasive plants such as garlic mustard in the parks. For information, contact Ms. Price at email@example.com or 724-283-5497.
First Published May 13, 2010 12:00 am