Eating the Invaders!

Each year the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) hosts an invasive species cook-off. The IAE is a non-profit environmental group based out of Corvallis that helps private and public land managers restore native habitat and provide outreach and education to the public on the importance of biological diversity. 

Invasive species are plants or animals that are not native to a given region. A successful invader can grow and reproduce quickly, disperse easily, and tolerate a range of environmental conditions. They wreak havoc on ecosystems by outcompeting native organisms for resources such as habitat and food. The IAE cites that it costs the US approximately $120 billion annually to control invasive species. 

To help curtail these invasions and the cost of managing them, the IAE hosts the cook-off annually in the late summer as a fundraiser and educational shindig. People have the opportunity to enter dishes made from invasive species into a contest. Dishes are judged in three categories: savory meat, savory vegetarian and dessert. Past winning dishes have included smoked blackberry lime starling tacos, Canada thistle/dandelion quiche and blackberry thyme cornbread.

Don’t Know Where to Start?
If all this talk of biological diversity is making you hungry and you’re ready to try your hand at edible invasive species removal, may I suggest garlic mustard? According to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is considered one of the three most invasive weeds alongside false brome and knotweed. Garlic mustard is super prolific—a single plant can produce up to 8,000 seeds! Once a population is established it is incredibly difficult to eradicate and can make invasive Himalayan blackberries look like amateurs. 

Garlic mustard is biennial, which means that it requires two years to complete its life cycle. During the second year garlic mustard can be identified by toothy triangular leaves that get smaller as they go up the stalk. The plant will bloom from April through June of the second year and will reach approximately 1-4 feet tall. The flowers form on a single stalk, are small (about ¼”), and look like a small cross or plus sign. The leaves will smell like garlic when crushed which is a giveaway of this plant. 

Prime foraging for garlic mustard is in April-May, when the second year plants are a foot or shorter, and before they have started flowering. The leaves and stalk will be tender. When harvesting garlic mustard, experts suggest removing the entire plant and using care not to disperse any seeds. Any unused portion of the plant shouldn’t be composted, rather the remains should be burned or bagged, then disposed of. Taking these extra steps will help reduce the risk of spreading the garlic mustard or creating a new infestation. 

Garlic Mustard Pesto
(Adapted from

4 cloves of garlic

¾ cup parsley

1 cup garlic mustard leaves

1 cup basil

¼ cup parmesan cheese (optional)

2 cups hemp hearts

1+ cups extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

• Using a food processor, chop garlic, parsley, garlic mustard leaves and basil.  

• Add parmesan, if using, and hemp hearts.  Give the mixture a few more pulses.

• Add olive oil and process until you have reached your desired consistency.

• Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Great on pasta, pizza, bread or sandwiches.

The Invasive Species Cook-off happens August 11, from 5 – 8 p.m. at Harris Bridge Vineyard in Wren, OR. Get your tickets — $25 for adults, $20 for students, and $10 for kids — at The event will feature live bluegrass, lawn games, a catered Mediterranean buffet, and cook-off contest.


By Erica Johnson