Conservation Minnesota

Edible Invasives

Whitney-Thesing FeatureI am an ecologist at heart. Even when I go for my afternoon runs, I cannot help but look in the ditches along the side of the road and survey what plant species are in there. Sometimes it’s good things like Butterfly Milkweed or Big Bluestem or Goldenrod, but most of the time it is things like Garlic Mustard, Thistles, and Burdock – all invasive species. I have talked before about different ways to control invasive vegetation; from treating with chemicals to using bio-control but I had never considered eating these plants as a means of control until recently.

And why not? Most (but not all) invasive plants are here because people brought them over as a food source. If they are edible other places, what should stop us from eating them here? Garlic Mustard has a great garlic flavor, is high in Vitamins A and C, and the early spring leaves of the flowering plant make a wonderful pesto (see recipe below). Japanese Knotweed has tender shoots that taste similar to rhubarb and is full of antioxidants as well as Vitamins A and C and makes a delicious baked good (see recipe below). There are many other edible invasives such as Bull Thistle, Common Burdock, Stinging Nettles, and Mullein.

There are some precautions to take whenever you are foraging but especially with invasive species. These rules include:

  • Get permission to pick if on private property.
  • Following all laws about the transportation of invasives.
  • Do not transport seeds.
  • When identifying plants, never eat anything you aren’t 100% confident about.
  • Make sure the plants you are eating were not treated with herbicide.
  • Always try new foods one at a time in small batches.
  • Dispose of uneaten parts properly, DO NOT compost any of it.
  • Never plant invasive vegetation in your garden (there is plenty to forage on).

Foraging may not be the end all solution to invasive species management but I believe it can be a small part of it. It is yet another way to alleviate the problem without resorting to harsh chemicals and there is something fun about finding your own food and creating something from scratch.  Check out for more information of foraging and go give it a try!


Garlic Mustard Pesto

3 cups Garlic Mustard leaves, washed, patted dry, and packed in a measuring cup
2 large garlic cloves, peeled & chopped
1 cup Walnuts
1 cup Olive Oil
1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano Cheese (or more Parmesan)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine Garlic Mustard leaves, garlic and walnuts in food processor and chop. Or divide recipe in half and use a blender. With motor running, add olive oil slowly. Shut off motor. Add cheeses, salt & pepper. Process briefly to combine.

Serve warm over pasta or spread on crackers as an appetizer. It also makes a great topping for baked fish.

Recipe adapted from Monches Farm, LLC


Knotweed Squares
1 c. flour
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
6 T cold butter

2 eggs, beaten
2/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3 c. packed, peeled, and chopped Japanese knotweed stalks

1. Heat the oven to 350°. Grease an 11″x7″ pan.
2. Put crust ingredients into a food processor and pulse to coarse crumbs. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and bake for 12 minutes.
3. For the filling, whisk all ingredients together except for the knotweed pieces. Stir in the knotweed, and spread the mixture over the hot crust.
4. Bake for about 35-40 minutes. Cool and cut into bars.

Recipe adapted from 3 Foragers

About Whitney Thesing

Whitney Thesing

Whitney Thesing graduated in 2009 from the University of Minnesota – Morris with degrees in Economics and Environmental Studies.  After graduating, she has worked in many areas of natural resources including water quality, invasive species management, ecological experiments, phenology, and native ecosystem restoration. She volunteers her time as a member of St. Louis Park’s Environment and Sustainability Commission, focusing on education and behavior change, and water resources, two causes near to her heart.

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