Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata is a biennial plant in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). As it is biennial, it takes two years to complete its lifecycle. In its first year of growth, the plant grows slightly wrinkled leaves which are round in shape and smell like garlic when crushed. Flowering occurs in the second year of its lifecycle, and the plant produces white, cross-shaped flowers in a dense bunch at the top of the plant, which appear from April through to June.

At a glance, Garlic Mustard plants resemble nettles, however they can be distinguished by their smooth, hairless leaves which are somewhat heart-shaped, as well as the terminal clusters of the small, white flowers. Garlic Mustard can grow up to 1m tall and are found in a variety of habitats, including wood margins, hedgerows, roadsides and shady places. It is a native species which is found throughout the UK, being very common in England and Wales.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in flower on the UEA campus - it is very
common among the nettles in the shady, wooded areas.

Garlic Mustard has a long history of use in food and medicine, being one of the oldest known spices used in cooking in Europe - archaeological evidence of its use in the Baltic dates back to 4100-3700 B.C.E. It is not really used in medicine any more, but was once used as a disinfectant or diuretic. Garlic Mustard has a variety of cooking uses, with the chopped leaves used to flavour salads and sauces, including pesto. The young leaves are preferable for this use as they provide a mild flavour of garlic and mustard; sometimes the flowers and fruits are used as well! In France, the seeds are also used, often to directly season food.

In Europe, 69 species of herbivorous insects are associated with Garlic Mustard, as well as 7 species of fungus. These include various members of weevils (especially the genus Ceutorhynchus), leaf beetles (Chrysomelids), butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera). Garlic Mustard is even a food plant for the larvae of the Garden Carpet moth.

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