While I only discovered Omphalodes cappadocica last year, I have known another of my favourite spring flowers since childhood. It is Garlic Mustard or Jack By The Hedge, Alliaria petiolata, and it looks lovely at the moment in our garden and on the shady fringes of our allotment.
I remember going for walks with my Mum when I was about five and looking for this plant and I love the way it livens up shady places such as the bottoms of hedges in spring. The name ‘Jack By The Hedge’ is very apt.
Garlic Mustard is a biennial. It seeds prolifically and huge numbers of small seedlings appear in late summer. The plants remain quite small and close to the ground until early in the following year, when they put on a big spurt of growth to elongate and flower. The flowers are small, white and cross-shaped (as is typical for the Brassicaceae) and occur in neat clusters.
Garlic Mustard smells of garlic when crushed and tastes of garlic with mustard, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The young leaves can be cooked or added to salad. (I sometimes just snack on them straight from the plant.) The plant has also been used in herbal medicine.
There are a number of recipes on the internet, including Rack of lamb with lentils and Jack By The Hedge sauce, a dip with mayonnaise and tabasco and Garlic Mustard and Spinach Raviolis with Garlic Mustard Pesto, though its use in salads is probably the most popular. The Nature’s Secret Larder website also recommends the seedpods as a snack. (It has some good identification photos too.)
If you grow Garlic Mustard in your garden, you will need to recognise the seedlings (see the lower picture in this piece on its control as a weed) and pull up those you don’t want to reach full size. This is easily done, but seedlings often lurk at the back of the border or under shrubs. This is often a good thing, as the plant looks lovely in these out of the way corners.
In the United States, however, Garlic Mustard is listed as a noxious or restricted plant in the states of Alabama, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, West Virginia and Washington. It first appeared in the United States in the 1860s and was probably introduced as a food plant. The Eat The Weeds and US National Parks websites tell the story.
A big bonus for me is that Garlic Mustard is one of the foodplants of the Green-veined White, Pieris napi, and Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines, butterflies. (The Orange Tip’s other main foodplant, Cuckoo Flower, Cardamine pratensis, likes damp places so is more difficult to grow in most gardens.)
The female Orange Tip butterfly lays her eggs on the flowers of Garlic Mustard and the caterpillars eat the developing seed pods – and each other, for they are cannibalistic. The eggs start off greenish-white but then turn orange and are quite easy to find, as are the caterpillars, which look like the seed pods.
A female Orange Tip has just found the Garlic Mustard in our garden and hopefully she has laid some eggs.
The above photograph is actually a male Orange Tip butterfly resting on a spinach leaf. The orange wingtips are hidden. The female also has the dappled underside to the hind wings, but no orange colouration.