Garlic mustard pesto

By Geneva Langeland, Michigan Sea Grant communications editor

Go just about anywhere in Michigan starting in late spring, and you’re almost guaranteed to encounter garlic mustard. These bright green plants are native to Europe and Asia and were introduced to North America in the 1800s, where they happily took root. Today, their toothed leaves and small white flowers are a common sight along roadsides, at the edges of mowed lawns, and carpeting the forest floor.

Because of its aggressive ability to spread and crowd out native plants, garlic mustard is considered an invasive species in Michigan. Learn more about garlic mustard, how to recognize various stages of growth, and tips for removing it.

Since one of the main methods of removing garlic mustard is yanking it up by the fistful, why not consider some creative ways to put this aromatic plant to use? You can sautee the greens or throw young leaves in a salad for a spicy bite. One of the most popular garlic mustard recipes, however, is pesto.

While walking in Washtenaw County’s Fox Science Preserve, I noticed a plethora of garlic mustard growing along the path and decided to harvest some for a batch of pesto.

The name “pesto” comes from the Genoese word meaning “pound or crush.” Pesto conjures up associations with basil, parmesan cheese, garlic, and pine nuts, blitzed into a condiment that’s great on pasta or dolloped on pizza. But this condiment is endlessly customizable. You can swap pricey pine nuts for cheaper walnuts, add spinach, experiment with different cheeses — or no cheese at all — and more.

With my haul from the preserve, I opted to make a simple vegan pesto that primarily uses garlic mustard, olive oil, walnuts, and nutritional yeast (a common non-dairy substitute for cheese that looks and tastes surprisingly like crushed-up Cheeze-Its). Add some salt, pepper, lemon juice, and garlic cloves, whiz it up in a blender or food processor, and you’re good to go! If you’d prefer a dairy-based version, here’s another simple recipe. Give garlic mustard pesto a try and let us know what you think!

The finished product. Photo: Geneva Langeland

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