An herbal remedy: pull it up

Weed: Uprooting -- and cooking with -- garlic mustard is the challenge at Patapsco Valley State Park.

May 14, 2000|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Hannah Goodmuth isn't particularly fond of pulling weeds from her family's Woodstock yard. But yesterday, she tackled the weeds of a far larger yard: Patapsco Valley State Park.

Participating in the park's first Garlic Mustard Challenge, 10-year-old Hannah and her team pulled up more than 86 pounds of a weed that has been crowding out many of the native plants along the Patapsco River.

"We want the butterflies to live and the other plants to grow," Hannah said, in between yanking up dozens and dozens of the 2- to 3-foot plants. "This garlic mustard keeps growing and killing the plants that let the butterflies lay eggs and live."

More than two dozen volunteers spent much of yesterday afternoon enduring the heat to pull up as many garlic mustard plants as they could between the Orange Grove and Avalon areas of Patapsco Valley State Park in Howard County.

They walked along the park road and scampered down to the river, finding the invasive plants wherever they went. The teams that collected the most pounds of garlic mustard by the end of the afternoon were awarded prizes donated from area companies and restaurants.

"I feel like I'm walking into a gold mine here!" exclaimed 10-year-old Nathan Destler of Columbia, stumbling upon a clearing of the plants. "It's really a garlic mustard mine."

The effort to rid Patapsco Valley State Park of the garlic mustard plant comes amid growing concern in Maryland and the nation about the explosion of non-native plants and animals that are taking over natural habitats. Some of the plants were brought intentionally and then kept growing, but others are believed to have come to the United States accidentally.

In the case of garlic mustard, it was believed to have been brought from Europe to New York in the 1800s as an herb for cooking, but it has since spread to become a nuisance in forests and nature preserves in more than half the country. It has the odor of garlic and a mustardlike flavor.

With the onset of spring, the past week has been a crucial time to pull up the garlic mustard because the plant is almost -- but not quite -- ready to begin scattering its hundreds of seeds across the park, multiplying across more of the land, according to Louisa Thompson, a volunteer naturalist for the park.

The white-flowering biennial plant grows relatively low to the ground in its first year, digging deep roots that make it difficult to pull up. But in its second year of life, it shoots up as high as 4 feet and its stems fill with seeds that explode into the air during the dry summer heat.

"Hopefully, if we do two or three years of pulling up all of the big plants in this area, we'll be able to really cut down on the growth," Thompson said. "That should give some of the native plants a better chance."

Yesterday's event was organized by several groups involved in the park, including the Friends of Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway Inc., the Patapsco Valley State Park Volunteer Conservation Stewardship Program, the Maryland Native Plant Society and the Maryland Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners.

While the volunteers collected more than 336 pounds of garlic mustard, the day's competition wasn't limited to see which teams could pick the most. Volunteers also were encouraged to make food using the edible weed.

Though few wanted to enter that part of the challenge, Sally Voris -- an event organizer and a former neighborhood columnist for The Sun's Howard County edition -- produced a salad with lettuce, garlic mustard, salmon and mandarin oranges. Her 10-year-old son, Alex Street, thought that garlic mustard with a lime juice dressing might make a nice salad, too.

"I've also made garlic mustard deviled eggs and garlic mustard quiche, and they taste pretty good," Voris said.

But many of the other volunteers weren't quite so enthusiastic to try the garlic mustard.

Ten-year-old Ezra Link of Oella refused to taste it. "I don't eat weeds," he said.

His weed-pulling teammate, Hannah Goodmuth, would only try a bit of it. "I took a leaf, which was enough," she said, making a face. "It didn't taste that good."

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