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April 29, 2011

Eating the Enemy: How to Become an Invasivore


Take a good, hard look at this picture. This is the enemy — at least if you're a river, and especially one trying to deal with several inches of rain in the space of a few days. Invasive garlic mustard, or Alliaria petiolata, causes riverbanks to erode, and aggressively crowds out other, grippier plants with the delicacy of a steamroller. 

Since arriving on these shores in the mid-1800s as a culinary herb brought by European immigrants, the plant has spread like a terrestrial oil slick throughout the U.S.; the creatures that feed on it in its natural habitat just don't exist here, giving the mustard free rein.

In Richmond, where the raging Winooski River was so high this week that the town bridge was closed, dealing with the garlic mustard clogging the river's shores has become critical, especially before it goes to seed in a few days. This weekend, volunteers will gather here to pull up bushels of the stuff. The Richmond Land Trust calls it the "Great Richmond Root-Out," and has been diligently working against the plant's spread for a few years now. "We're making a dent. It takes about five years to actually clear an area," says Cathy Aiken, the Trust's volunteer and education coordinator. "But it's highly aggressive and it just spreads."

Pulling out Alliaria petiolata involves gripping and yanking on its deep root; hours of this is likely to work up a hearty appetite. Some culinary-minded soul happily discovered that if you grind up the plant with some garlic, cheese and oil, garlic mustard makes a fine, tangy pesto. Aiken plans to show aspiring "invasivores" how to make the stuff at Richmond's Congregational Church after the event, followed by a dinner with pesto made by the folks at On the Rise Bakery — they've been whipping up garlic-mustard pesto all week and offering it as a special. 

Come Sunday night, Toscano Café Bistro will also have garlic pesto on the menu, just in time for Vermont Restaurant Week. If only Japanese knotweed was as tasty.

The Great Richmond Root-Out takes place tomorrow, April 30, from 2 to 4 p.m, followed by the cooking demo and dinner at 4:30. Register here.

Awesome! We love seeing people eating invasive species!

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