Jack By The Hedge or Garlic Mustard is a plant that you really ought to get to know. You might love it… I do.
A member of the Cabbage/Mustard family; as well as being high in vitamin A, the leaves contain glucaosinolates, apigenin flavanoids, allyl sulphides and isothiocyanates, which are known to have anti-tumour effects. Garlic Mustard does however also contain anti-terpines which inhibit the absorption of proteins in the small intestine. For this reason it’s probably best to avoid consuming large amounts of this plant… All things in moderation.
Garlic Mustard often grows at the edge of woods or in hedgerows in large clusters reaching up to a meter in height. From mid-April the plant’s small, white, four petalled flowers make it easy to spot. By this time of year, as the plants cling onto their last few flowers, the notable features are the long, green seed pods, which reach out from the central stem like Stick Insects.
The Nettle-like leaves are best eaten between March and May when they are flavoursome and neither too pungent nor tough.
Basal leaves (those at the base of the central stem) are kidney-shaped and for the first year of the plant’s two year life cycle they form a basal rosette, from which the plant grows up during it’s second year.
All foliage is edible but the tastiest leaves are those towards the top of the plant.
Garlic Mustard does taste of both garlic and mustard yet to me this plant has a flavour all of it’s own. See what you think.
The leaves go very well with bacon or lamb and are wonderful in salads whereas the flowers make a perfect garnish for risottos and lots of other dishes.
The dried seeds with their mustardy flavour can be harvested later in the summer, stored in jars and then used throughout the year for breads, chutneys and any dishes requiring spices.
As with all wild food the joy is in the experimentation so see what you come up with!
young leaves in February (above) and mature plants in May.