Garlic mustard – characteristics, cultivation and use

garlic mustard flower
garlic mustard flower

The garlic mustard is a widespread plant in Europe. It belongs to the mustard family (Brassicaceae). It gets its name from the garlic fragrance that comes from rubbing the leaves. Garlic mustard is not related to garlic, it is related to watercress.

Profile of garlic mustard:

Scientific name: Alliaria petiolata

Plant family: borages (Brassicaceae)

Other names: garlic root, hedge garlic, sauce-alone, Jack-in-the-bush, penny hedge and poor man’s mustard, Jack-by-the-hedge (old British folk name)

Sowing time / Planting time: March – April; October

Flowering period: April – August

Harvest time: April – September

Useful plant parts: leaves, flowers, seeds, shoots, roots

Location: partially shaded locations

Soil quality: nutrient-rich and humus-rich soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: cold, wound healing, rheumatism, gingivitis

Use as aromatic herb: for cheese, cottage cheese, seeds like mustard

Plant characteristics and classification of garlic mustard

Origin and occurrence of garlic mustard

The garlic mustard is a plant native to Europe, whose natural range extends to the Near East. Since it has a high ecological tolerance range, it easily spreaded to North America. The plant is quite common in the wild and easy to find. Preferred places are fallow land, garden margins, deciduous forests, hedgerows and sites with nitrogen-rich soils.

Plant order of garlic mustard

Known in the scientific context as Alliaria petiolata (formerly Alliaria officinalis), garlic mustard is a typical member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). It is related to herbal plants such as the mustard, the shepherd’s purse or the bittercress. The genus Alliaria probably consists of only about five species.

Characteristics of garlic mustard


Garlic mustard is a mostly two-year-old plant (occasionally perennial), which can grow up to 110 cm (44 in) depending on the location conditions. Usually the growth heights are on average however with 60 to 70 cm (24 to 28 in) clearly smaller. The slightly brownish to white taproot is often divided two to three times in the middle.


The leaves of garlic mustaches resemble a mixture of nettle and creeping Jenny. However, they do not have any painful stinging hairs and are usually more clearly jagged on the leaf margins. Striking features are the emarginations on the petiole and the smell of garlic while rubbing the leaves. The basal leaves are usually much rounder than upgrowing leaves, which are usually tapered. In contrast to the slightly four-edged stems, the leaves are also hairless.


The garlic mustard flowers from April to July. In a terminal, racemose inflorescence sit many white flowers whichs are 5 to 8 millimeters (0.2 to 0.3 in) in size. As typical for members of the mustard family, the flowers are fourfold. Bees, flies, and beetles are pollinating insects. The plant is also capable of self-pollination.


To fruit ripening develop, from the white flowers, up to 8 cm (3 in) long pods, which contains in each case up to eight dark seeds. The seeds themselves are usually no larger than 4 mm (0.16 in).

garlic mustard plants
garlic mustard plants

Garlic mustard – cultivation and care

The cultivation and care of garlic mustard is easily possible. However, there is a lot to be considered when sowing, at the location and in garden planning.


Garlic mustard love half-shady and shady locations. Preference is given to nutrient-rich, well-drained and humus-rich soils that can store some moisture. Optimal in the garden are locations behind a hedge or below older trees. If you want to grow the herb on the balcony, East, North and Northwest locations are particularly suitable. For potted crops, commercially available potting soils are better than herbal potting soils, as these usually have only low nutrient reserves and are often too loose.


Sowing can take place between March and April and mid to late October, with the best time around March. Also, recommended is sowing in seed coats. The coats should then be placed on the balcony or directly in the field. The seeds are cold germs and require frost at the beginning. Sunny locations should be strictly avoided when sowing! It may take a while until the first seedlings appear. In the wild, the seedlings usually appear at the transition from colder and frosty weather to the first warmer spring days.


If the herb grows in the garden on nutrient-rich soil, additional fertilization is not required in most cases. However, pot and tub cultures may require occasional fertilizer additions as the nutrients can not be kept in the soil. A nitrogen-stressed organic fertilizer is best suited here for optimal growth.


As a shade-loving herb, garlic mustard also needs water. Although, it usually lasts short periods of drought, but the soil should never dry out completely. Potted cultures should be taken to ensure that the soil is always kept slightly moist.


The plant is frost-tolerant and therefore winter-proof. With regard to overwintering no separate measures have to be taken.

Garlic mustard and trees – Attention!

Who wants to grow the herb in the garden and has a healthy tree population, should exercise caution. Almost all trees undergo symbioses with mycorrhizal fungi, which, however, are gradually destroyed by the garlic mustard in the long term. Direct large-scale plantings under trees can thus possibly lead to damage to the trees.

Use of garlic mustard

The garlic mustard is an excellent herb for the kitchen. It is versatile and easy to handle. In addition, the plant contains many ingredients that can have a positive impact on our body.

Garlic mustard in the kitchen

Among herb friends the herb is no longer an insider tip. Just like creeping Jenny, ashweed and sorrel, this herb is becoming increasingly popular.

Garlic mustard is a healthy, mild yet very spicy herb. As the name suggests, it has a light garlic flavor. It is a great substitute for garlic, especially for people who can not tolerate garlic and wild garlic.

The whole plant is edible. For salads, herbal quark, pesto, herbal spreads, soups and sauces leaves and shoots are used. Garlic mustard is consumed raw, as the ingredients responsible for the aromatic garlic-peppery taste are destroyed by cooking. For this reason, you should always add them only at the end of the cooking process. The plant is also great for spicy smoothies.

The flowers can be given as an edible decoration to salads and other savory dishes.

Green, immature seed pods are freshly mixed as a spicy seasoning to vegetable dishes. From the mature black seeds of the garlic mustard a kind of mustard can be made or the seeds are used as pepper as a spice.

The root is reminiscent of horseradish, it can be finely grated as a spicy spice. However, the root is only harvested from annual plants.

All parts of the plant should only be used fresh, as the most valuable ingredients are lost while drying. For preservation qualify freezing or making a pesto.

leaves of garlic mustard
leaves of garlic mustard

Garlic mustard as a medicinal herb

The plant does not play a major role today as a medicinal herb, yet the plant contains some ingredients that consider its use. In the past this was different. The plant, known as garlic herb in the Middle Ages, was used both in the internal and external treatment of various ailments.

In herbal books garlic mustard was used in the treatment of hip pain and side stitching. The plant was used as an ointment. The herb was also used against shortness of breath in the form of a tea. Externally, garlic mustard was recommended as a woman’s herb, as well as epileptics and hypersomnia.

In the present time, the plant is used only occasionally naturopathic, which is mainly because there are far more effective medicinal plants.

Garlic mustard can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • asthma
  • bronchitis
  • cold
  • cough
  • gingivitis
  • gout
  • indigestion
  • inflammation of the mouth and throat
  • rheumatism
  • scurvy
  • worms
  • wound healing

Medicinal properties

  • antibacterial
  • sweaty

When garlic mustard is used as a medicinal herb, fresh juices made from the whole plant, compresses or teas are taken.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy garlic mustard – What is there to pay attention to

Garlic mustard is a common wild herb that can usually be found quickly with a little practice and local knowledge. There are therefore very few offers from retailers.

Some seed producers offer seeds of garlic mustard. When buying the seeds, however, keep in mind that a little patience is necessary in raising, as the seedlings appear only very irregular.

Fresh plants are usually not available in plant centers. With a little luck, you can get some copies on perennial markets or online.

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