[Editor’s note: I originally wrote (and promptly forgot about) this back in June. Ah well, better late than never!]
If you’re not involved in invasive species control, you might not be very familiar with garlic mustard. Which is too bad, because everybody should know about it—this European plant is a major problem in North America these days. Luckily, unlike a lot of the nastier (usually Asian) imports, this one is at least good for something!
In fact, g.m. is one of the oldest known cooking spices—its use dates back all the way to the Old European Neolithic!
Since we’ve just passed the summer solstice, now is the perfect time to get out in the woods and kill two birds with one stone—help rehabilitate our local environment, as well as harvest a tasty seasoning! Earlier in the spring, g.m. can be gathered fresh and the leaves used to flavor dishes, but by now most of the plant has died back, leaving the seed pods for easy identification.
I took a quick barefoot woods-walk this afternoon, and in about twenty minutes managed to gather a good bundle of dried stalks:
Because the delicate dried pods (or “siliques” for all you botanists out there) that contain the seeds will break open if you look at them the wrong way—and since we’d also like to prevent the spread of g.m.—it’s best to take extreme care while you pull the plant up by the roots to keep the seeds from shooting everywhere.
Once you have your bundle of plants, you can ‘shuck’ or strip the pods off the stalks; from here, it’s a simple matter of agitating the pods to release the seeds (I ground them around in this stone mortar before rolling bundles between my hands, and then winnowed away the chaff:
Now that I’m left with an ounce or so of pure seeds, I’m going to experiment and keep some plain and roast some others (to facilitate easier grinding), and then do some living history and season some venison with it. The seeds by themselves smell deliciously savory, with a hint of horseradish!