By Emily Lilla

The Nature Academy is focused on training a new generation of environmental leaders in sustainability, conservation, and ecological restoration. As part of the Nature Academy program, each intern writes a blog post and develops a project. The project provides an opportunity to take on responsibility in an area of interest, contribute to the goals of their team, and develop a skill or area of knowledge that can be added to the intern’s portfolio. The post may reflect the project or be a nature-related topic of personal interest to the intern.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a native plant of Europe that was brought over to North America in the late 1800s for culinary and medicinal purposes. It is, however, considered invasive in North America. Garlic mustard crowds out native species that are beneficial to the ecosystem. You’ll find it in residential lawns, woodlands, and any other partially shady areas.

With thousands of seeds produced per plant, garlic mustard spreads rapidly, so it is essential to pull it out of the ground if spotted. It has a two-year life cycle, and in the second year it flowers and produces seeds. The seeds can stay viable in the soil for up to 10 years, so even if you think you may have eradicated all the garlic mustard, it may still pop up the following year.

In the Natural Areas Stewardship team we strive to restore habitat for native species and manage invasive plant populations. By removing garlic mustard at Matthaei Botanical Garden and Nichols Arboretum, we are allowing other beneficial native plants to prosper, aiding the ecosystem by providing the wildlife more access to native resources.

Garlic mustard releases chemicals to prevent the growth of plants around it while also containing trace amounts of cyanide in the leaves to prevent being eaten by predators. While some consider garlic mustard a very tasty plant, recommendations suggest limiting consumption of garlic mustard leaves to twice a month. However, since cyanide is water soluble, if the leaves are boiled the cyanide concentration decreases significantly. On the bright side, the seeds are free of cyanide, and can be made into mustard, which makes for a very tasty dip for pretzels. (New York Times)

Garlic mustard seeds
Garlic mustard year 1
Garlic mustard year 2

The best time to collect seeds is between early July and early September, depending on how wet the summer is. To collect the seed, pull the seed pods (siliques) off the plant into a container and then later open the pods, pouring the seeds into a container, making sure not to drop any outside. 

The recipe below can be followed to make a delicious, spicy mustard that can be used as an excellent condiment for snacks, sandwiches, salads—you name it.


Basic Country Mustard
By Hank Shaw
Total time: 15 minutes


6 tablespoons whole mustard seeds, about 50 grams
1/2 cup mustard powder, about 50 grams
1/2 cup water or beer
3 tablespoons vinegar (cider, white wine, or sherry)
2 teaspoons salt, about 5 grams


1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup minced fresh herbs


  1. Grind the whole mustard seeds for a few seconds in a spice or coffee grinder, or by hand with a mortar and pestle. You want them mostly whole because you are using mustard powder, too.
  2. Pour the semi-ground seeds into a bowl and add the salt and mustard powder. If using, add one of the optional ingredients, too.
  3. Pour in the water or beer, then stir well. When everything is incorporated, let this sit for up to 10 minutes. The longer you let it sit, the mellower the mustard will be. When you’re ready, pour in the vinegar.
  4. Pour into a sealable glass jar and store in the fridge. It will be runny at first. Don’t worry, it will thicken up overnight. Wait at least 12 hours before using. Mustard made this way will last a year in the fridge.


Change the liquid and you change the mustard.
Grind the mustard seeds a lot or a little and you change the texture — or skip the whole seeds altogether and use just mustard powder. 
Want herbs in there? Go for it.
Like honey mustard? Pour some honey in.
Want your mustard even spicier? Add chiles or freshly grated horseradish.

Tip: One of the most important aspects of making mustard at home is time. It should not be eaten the day it’s made. Mustard needs to marinate to dissipate its bitterness. Try it: eat a little dab right after you make it, then a day or two later. The difference is dramatic.


Steve Parrish, Matthaei-Nichols Natural Areas Specialist
New York Times

Emily Lilla

Emily Lilla is originally from Green Bay, Wisc. She graduated in May from Michigan Technological University with a bachelor’s in biological sciences with a concentration in ecology. The day after graduation she moved to the Ann Arbor area and the next day started in the internship program. After a month of working as an intern Emily took on a full-time position as the natural areas stewardship technician. She’s excited to continue her career path at Matthaei Botanical Garden and Nichols Arboretum. In her free time she enjoys weight lifting, swimming, camping, hiking, photography, and volunteering at a physical therapy rehabilitation center.