Developing a Taste for Invasive Species | Omega

Developing a Taste for Invasive Species

Developing a Taste for Invasive Species

We know what to do when life hands us too many lemons. It may be time to do the same with invasive species: grab a fork and eat our way out of the problem. "Eradication by mastication," as it is playfully referred to by the Institute for Applied Ecology, just might let us simultaneously feed more people and solve a growing number of challenges caused by invasive species.


  • Photo: Katorisi

    Kuzumochi is a Japanese dessert made from the starch of kudzu (Pueraria lobata). A native of Asia, kudzu was originally introduced in the United States as an ornamental plant, and in the early 20th century farmers were paid to plant it to help prevent soil erosion. It quickly took over and became an invasive speciesan animal or plant introduced into an ecosystem where its rapid spread poses significant challenges and design opportunities—in the Southeast. It is slowly spreading North and West, covering everything in its path, from other vegetation to buildings to cars. Livestock might help us keep kudzu in check, or using it as a biofuel in the future, but for now, you can try this recipe for kuzumochi.

  • Photo: Joaquim Alves Gaspar

    Eat the Invaders advocates “fighting invasive species, one bite at a time.” They explain that sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), pictured above, is now common in all of the United States and most of Canada—thanks to Captain Cook discovering it in New Zealand in the late 18th century and spreading it from there. It resembles the dandelion but is less bitter; the leaves, flowers, and roots are all edible. Try these recipes. 

  • Photo: ZooFari

    Purslane, cultivated varieties of which are increasingly available in farmers markets, was in North America when Europeans arrived, but seemed to have fallen out of favor. Despite the ancient pedigree of this weed-cum-cultivated crop, in Hawaii it is considered an invasive. High in Omega-3 fatty acids and beta carotene, purslane has a crisp texture with a lemony, peppery taste that's perfect for salads. 

  • Photo: Jesse Taylor

    You’ve no doubt walked past the ubiquitous white man’s foot (also known as the broadleaf plantain, or to science as Plantago major) many times. This invasive species was intentionally introduced to North America by European settlers who brought it with them as a traditional medicinal plant. The seeds can remain viable for decades, and with each plant producing roughly 20,000 seeds, that's a recipe for rapid spreading. Beyond its medicinal uses, the broadleaf plantain is a great source of nutrients. It's high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. You can eat it raw when young or cooked thoroughly when older (to soften up the tougher leaves).

  • Photo: Dericks Tan

    A great souce for recipes for invasive species, Invasivore suggests making a jam from autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) berries, which taste more like currants than olives. Introduced into North America in the early 19th century as an ornamental plant good at controlling erosion, autumn olive grows rapidly, competing with native species in places with poor soil. It currently grows in every state east of the Mississippi and several of the states in the Great Plains, as well as Washington and Oregon.

  • Photo: Jens Petersen

    While we can eat many invasive species (if we adjust our palettes), does it really help decrease or control them in the wild? The evidence is inconclusive for most species, but with the lionfish (Pterois species), a killer invasive that's colonizing parts of the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the east coast of Florida, its "buttery, flaky meat" helps make it popular in restaurants. Culinary efforts seem to be reducing the wild population, protecting native fish in the process, according to the Washington Post. Try these recipes.

  • Photo: Forest & Kim Starr

    For many invasive species, like Asian carp, feral swine, and Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus, above, not yet ripe), efforts to get Americans to add them to their diets have been unsuccessful. But it can be “a way to get people engaged in the topic and in the solution,” says Laura Huffman of the Nature Conservancy. If you live near the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest, give this Himalayan blackberry cobbler a try.

  • Photo: Jacob Enos

    Garlic mustard is a biennial herb found in abundance across the United States in ditches, wooded areas, swamps, and even relatively untouched landscapes. Traveling from Europe and Asia, Alliaria petiolata has been labeled as one of the worst invasive species in Northeastern forests after becoming a dominant undergrowth species. Lucky for us, this ubiquitous plant is edible and rich in vitamins A, C, and E, as well as some B vitamins. The flowers, leaves, roots, and seeds can all be added to your recipes. Go into your backyard to pick garlic mustard, and enjoy it in salad, soups, dips, pesto, and more. 

© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies


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