Recently I rode my bike along Danville's River Walk Trail and observed several leafy clumps of an interesting plant known as the Garlic Mustard. This white-petaled, erect biennial (Alliaria petiolata), found in sandy woodland edges and on river banks, blooms in April.
The four petals and leaf shape readily identify the plant, which is about knee-high, growing in scattered individual clumps. Years ago the Garlic Mustard was familiar to me as having become naturalized in the alluvial woods and fields along the Dan River from the Stateline Bridge downstream to the old Danville-Martinsville railroad trestle. Today this Garlic Mustard plant is one of the most conspicuous springtime wildflower inhabitants along the edges of our Dan River. I wasn't too surprised to see that Garlic Mustards are continuing to spread downstream, including along the River Walk Trail included.
Several authors mention that the crushed leaf was often rubbed along the inside of a salad bowl to impart a slight garlic flavor. A list of common names should give a hint as to the historical use of the Garlic Mustard: mustard root, garlic root, jack-in-the-bush, poor man's mustard, jack-by-the hedge, sauce-alone, hedge garlic.
Also see the photographs in larger format.
Copyright © 2004–2008 William T. Hathaway.