Monday, May 2, 2011

Foraging with Kids: Time for Garlic Mustard and Honeysuckle!

Garlic Mustard at a glance (in bloom)
Kids really love to forage, and there are a number of things besides the traditional berry picking that they can harvest from the woods and pastures in the family yard, the local park, or out hiking. Right now is the prime time for two kid's favourites: garlic mustard and honeysuckle. And besides, both of these are invasive plants, so the kids can take their energy our protecting nature at the same time. Indeed, I wish I would have finished this post about a week ago to really hit the right timing. In any case, there are still plenty out there to feast upon.

Garlic mustard is an invasive culinary herb introduced by Italian immigrants in the last century. It's relatively easy to spot with its little white flowers, and a straight forward identification come from its distinct smell. If you rub the leaves, they give off a garlic odor and have a mild garlic flavor, as well. The problem with garlic mustard is that each plant produces hundreds of seeds and the plant has taken over in lots of areas in the U.S.  Foraging for garlic mustard gives kids the chance to use up some energy ripping the plants out of the ground, roots and all. A few years ago, National Geographic Kids ran an article on invasive plants and recommended to children not only pulling up all the plants that they can see, but also making pesto from it. When you do pick garlic mustard, definitely try to grab the whole plant. They aren't deeply rooted, so they'll come up easily. Picking them before they seed is, of course, the best thing for the environment, even in the face of an endless battle.

Garlic mustard flower and leaf up close

To make pesto from the garlic mustard, have the kids pluck the leaves off and mince them in a food processor. Like pesto made from basil, it will take a lot of garlic mustard leaves to make any significant amount of pesto base. But, hey, in this case, you'll find plants by the hundreds in a wide array of locations. To the minced herb, add olive oil, a little salt, and minced pine nuts or walnuts. I don't add Parmesan until I use the pesto, but some people add grated Parmesan. You can then freeze the pesto in ice cube trays for individual use later, or use it fresh. The flavor is definitely different from basil pesto, but it's pretty good.

This pdf I found online is so perfect for foraging with kids, I had to update this post to include it directly. It contains a range of activities about garlic mustard and some other invasive plants, as well as recipes for garlic mustard. I learned that it is used also for cleansing wounds, and can be used as a dye. It is a substitute for mustard greens. Because it is in flower now, the leaves are going to be bitter if you eat them raw, but planning for the next year... ! check this out: 

Honeysuckle in bloom with dew

Honeysuckle vines are also blooming right now and their scent fills the air around our woods. I think the honeydew vines we have might well be Japanese honeydew, another invasive plant, but I haven't tried hard to identify them. From the little I've read of non-native honeydew, they are sweet smelling and showy, which describes the plants that abound in my woods to a "T".  Their flowers can be eaten straight from the vine for a sweet honey taste. But kids love learning the secret way to get a drop of nectar from the flower. You pluck the entire bloom from the plant, then carefully pinch down at the back end and pull the "string" out through the back of the flower. Unless wildlife has already snatched it, a drop of sweet nectar will be drawn out at the very end. It takes a little practice, but it's exciting to get it right and have this honey-tasting drop come out of the flower like magic. It you grow impatient, you can always just eat the whole thing, but the honey dew by itself is super special.

You can't see the nectar in this photo - but it is there near the green tip

This entry is part of Real Food Wednesday where you can find a wide range of blog posts each week associated with Real Food. I am also participating this week for the first time with the Hearth and Soul blog hop, one that I've been reading for months but haven't joined.... it's all about food that's good for the soul, and I find my connect into it off of another great blog, A Moderate Life which is fun to read and includes great Mark Bittman challenges.


  1. I didn't know about the garlic mustard at all, but we're definitely fans of honeysuckle. I'm fascinated and interested in learning more about foraging! Great read!

  2. Renee, Oh, I am so happy you shared this article with us and for participating in the hearth and soul hop for the first time! Huge welcomes to you and thanks for all your kind comments on my blog in the past. I want to share something with you-I am an avid forager but never knew you could eat these weeds! I never knew what they were! Other than pesto can you do anything else with them? I love greens and would love to eat up a bunch of these if they are good! As for the honey suckle, you brought back such great memories from child hood. Our honeysuckle looks completely different though with long orange, yellow and white trumpet shaped flowers. I wonder if they are all invasive? Thanks again for sharing this on the hearth and soul hop and I am totally gonna eat up some garlic mustard! Hugs. Alex

  3. Here is another great link on garlic mustard from the govt:

    and an even better one from the DNR with a whole activity sheet for kids with activities and other invasives:

    It says to use garlic mustard wherever you would use mustard greens otherwise. It also says the Italians traditionally used it in salad, or as a substitute for onion or garlic. But, it is also used to cleanse wounds, as it has an antiseptic in it. Cool ! For the fiber freaks, it says you can use it as a dye. Use the roots like horseradish, the seeds as a condiment.. but, like many things, the plant gets bitter as it goes to full flower. There are recipes included in the pdf file from a Patapsco State Park (that's near me!) Garlic Mustard Challenge.

    About honeysuckle, I'd have to research. I do recall that native honeysuckle is more ordinary in look and smell. There were lots of great photos online for invasive honeysuckle. And, I've been trying to id this bush in midsummer with the most amazingly beautiful berries, but never registering that it was the honeysuckle, hence not in my native plant books.

  4. Renee! Thanks so much for all the great info! I will certainly check it out! In fact, going to go grab some out of my wild area now and taste it! :)

  5. I just love reading foraging posts. I admit to being a little leery - I have zero plant knowledge and am very allergic to certain plants and so it makes me nervous. I have eaten pine needles and dock and dandelions now I need to find the garlic mustard and honeysuckle! Thanks for sharing this with the Hearth and Soul Hop!

  6. This is a really fantastic post. I didn't know the history of garlic mustard, but it's sort of interesting to think of wiping out an invasive by eating it. I love to conquer with my fork!

  7. We have tons of honeysuckle that my children and i both enjoy harvesting. I don't think I have seen garlic mustard in my area, but I will definitely keep a closer eye out for it now. Thanks for sharing this post (and pictures) with the Hearth and Soul Hop.

    BTW, i am your latest follower.

  8. got here from premeditated leftovers blog hop. i am so trying the honeysuckle nectar. Our family does the same thing with the big, purple clovers.

  9. got your comment. we like nectar from clovers :-)