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  • Writer's pictureThe Wild Foodie

Jack by the Hedge or Garlic Mustard

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the hedge, is a common early Spring herb found in hedges and woods. Once you have learned to identify it, all you will want to do is cook with it.

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the hedge, is a common early Spring herb found in hedges and woods, smelling mildly of garlic. It is also common in towns and cities and seems to find a place to root most everywhere. It has long been used as a flavouring in sauces for fish and lamb (I make an amazing mint sauce with Jack by the Hedge - see below recipes) and as an ingredient for spring salads.

Jack-by-the-hedge flowers
Jack-by-the-hedge flowers

Jack-by-the-hedge and its many names

Jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata), also known as Hedge Garlic or Garlic Mustard is a biennial (two year lifecycle) in the mustard family. Other names for this most nutritious plant are poor mans mustard and penny hedge or colloquially, known simply as 'Jack'.

The name Jack-by-the-hedge comes from its 'garlic-like' aroma when the leaves are crushed, for it was said that the devils breathe smelt of garlic and 'Jack' is just another old English name for the devil.

Jack-by-the-hedge Identification

Jack-by-the-hedge has leaves that are broadly heart shaped, stalked, with numerous broad teeth and it has crinkly, kidney shaped green leaves that smell of garlic if lightly rubbed or crushed.

Its white flowers, visibile in late spring, are white and have four petals in the shape of a cross, making it a member of the cruciferea.

The plant stands upright and can grow up to 70cm+ in height, the colour ranges from vivid green (when young) and the soft nettle-shaped leaves take on a deeper green colour later in the year. When you see a sea of hedge garlic, and they appear wonderfully balanced in terms of colour.

Hedge Garlic or Garlic Mustard in a wood
Hedge Garlic or Garlic Mustard

Where can you find Jack-by-the-hedge or Garlic Mustard?

Jack-by-the-hedge is a plant of hedgerows, hence its name. But you'll also find it in shaded places lining the banks of ditches and streams. This plant prefers to grow in damp dappled shade, you will also find it in woods. Garlic Mustard is widespread and common throughout Britain and Ireland, and is found throughout Mainland Europe and in Africa and India.

Can you eat Jack-by-the-hedge?

Jack-by-the-Hedge is edible. The small leaves can be picked from September, when they first begin to show, until late spring, when the white flowers appear and the plant matures. After that, they are still edible but start to become tough and the leaves become dappled with brown spots as the plant focuses on seed production rather than leaf production. The plants leaves, flowers and seed pods can all be eaten. The flowers are available from April to June, the seeds shortly after.

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What does Jack-by-the-hedge taste like?

Hedge garlic has a flavour that is a combination of garlic and mustard and it has plenty of uses in the kitchen. Due to its wide season, it is available when the weather is good and bad, so it can be added for stews on colder days, or used as a salad leaf during the warmer days of spring. The mustard like flavour is a wonderful savoury, sulphury green flavour, cut by the mild garlic taste. It is quite mild, but when cooked that flavour of garlic really comes to life.

Garlic mustard in its first year
Garlic mustard in its first year

What is Jack-by-the-hedge good for?

The leaves make ideal sandwich fillers and if they are finely chopped and mixed with a little olive oil and seasoning, they make a refreshing and delicate salad dressing. The flowers have a bold flavour and can also be added to salads or used as a beautiful garnish or even to flavour oils. The young, green seed pods are best eaten in the field (they are a tasty and nutritious snack) the perfect Wild Food Foragers convenience food.

Hedge garlic recipes and culinary uses

This is where it gets exciting for me. I love this wild herb and I like to use it as an ingredient.

Garlic Mustard and Mint Sauce

In Spring, I make a wonderful garlic mustard and mint sauce which obviously is the perfect addition to a Lamb roast dinner. To make this bold and more complex sauce, simply take a small bunch of mint and a small bunch of jack-by-the-hedge. Strip of the leaves and chop finely. Place in a jug, add a good pinch of salt and a tablespoon of sugar. Pour over about 4 tablespoons of boiling water and then allow to cool. Next add about the same amount of white wine or cider vinegar (about 4 tbsp), stir and taste. This simple sauce will leave you wondering why you have never tried it before and send you out foraging whenever lamb is on the menu.

Jack-by-the-hedge Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves)

Yes, the leaves are a little smaller, but not by much, when compared to vine leaves. Which does make this recipe a little fiddlier. But the result, in my view, is superior to using vine leaves.

Find a whole bunch of Jack-by-the-hedge leaves, the largest that you can find. Wash then and remove the stalks (being careful to keep the leaves intact. Blanch the leaves in boiling water and allow to cool. Soak some rice (for 20 minutes or so) with a whole cut and squeezed lemon in the water. Meanwhile gently fry of an onion. When the onion is cooked and the rice soaked and drained mix the onions in with the rice and chop up plenty of your favourite herbs. Again, I like to use a mix of mint and fresh garlic mustard leaves, but Dill really works even Lemon Balm. Lightly season the rice mixture. Next the fiddly part. Using the cooled garlic mustard leaves, jigsaw together a crude rectangle, place a spoon full of the rice mix on one edge and fold (tucking in the edges) into a stubby cigar shape. Make lots. Next in a small shallow cooking pot, line the bottom with more Jack-by-the-hedge leaves and then snugly tuck in as many of the Dolmades as you can.

Jack-by-the-hedge Dolmades
Jack-by-the-hedge Dolmades

Cover with a heat proof plate and then pour in enough liquid (this can be water, but I like to use a light vegetable stock) to cover. Cook on a low heat for 30 to 40 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the pan (gently) and place on a serving plate, drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil and enjoy your Dolmades. Your Dolmades will last for a few days in the fridge, that is unless your friends and family find them first.

Roast Potatoes with Jack-by-hedge Mayonnaise

This is a super simple, super fast recipe that will keep you coming back for more. In fact, it is barely a recipe at all, more of a combination of ingredients. But what a combination.

Roast Potatoes with Jack-by-hedge Mayonnaise

Roast some potatoes until they are golden, crunchy and delicious.

Next take a good quality mayonnaise, you'll need three of four tablespoons in a small bowl. Finaly chop a garlic clove and a bunch of garlic mustard leaves. Add them to the mayonnaise. Meanwhile, gently toast a tablespoon of pine nuts and roughly chop, once cooled add them to the mayonnaise (they add a fantastic texture to your sauce). Squeeze in a little fresh lemon juice and then stir to combine.

This mayonnaise on roast potatoes is outrageous. Delicious. Lip smackingly good.

More recipes

I have used this wonderful herb a lot.. I mean a lot. Here are some of my other Jack-by-the-Hedge recipes that you might enjoy making:

What are the medicinal uses for Jack-by-the-hedge?

Aside its culinary uses, hedge garlic has been used medicinally as well. It is believed to be anti-asthmatic, antiseptic, diaphoretic, nutritive, it was used to expel parasites, or as a general healing herb. The leaves have been chewed to relieve the pain of mouth ulcers. Even as a treatment for bronchitis where the roots have been chopped up, heated in oil, and the ointment created rubbed on the chest for relief.

If you want to learn more about the medicinal values of wild plants why not check out our range of natural medicine and remedies books.

One last tip.. Make sure that you don't mistake them for nettles!! They commonly grow together and I have been left with my fair share of nettle stings enthusiastically collecting garlic mustard in the past.

Summing up

This extremely common and delicious member of the mustard family is a firm favourite in our household and is a regular visitor to the dinner table. I will be gathering this wild herb myself over the coming weeks so stay posted for even more recipes and ways to use it. Whatever you call this easily foraged ingredient, whether you are using it medicinally or for its culinary worth I am sure that you'll learn to love it as much as we do.. And don't forget to try out that wonderful mint sauce recipe. It will change your lamb dinners forever.

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