Jacob Barney’s students say bon appétit to invasive species

Rose Peterson of Norfolk, Virginia, was recently whipping up some pesto, which is generally made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

But the Virginia Tech senior skipped the basil and instead substituted garlic mustard, a common weed that is one of many invasive plants that are not only ubiquitous, but also delicious.

“Garlic mustard grows commonly in lawns,” said Peterson, who harvested some from her aunt’s house in New Jersey over Thanksgiving break. “You could probably forage some on the Drillfield, too.”

Peterson, who is majoring in biology, made the dish for her biological invasions class at Virginia Tech. For their end of the semester project, students had to not only tell the history of invasive species, they had to cook up a delectable dish to share with the class taught by Jacob Barney.

“I wanted students to get a sense of why and how people move species around from this class,” said Barney, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science. “The species we have now were introduced a long time ago, and it’s not always cut-and-dry as to whether or not these species are bad. It really depends on the eye of the beholder.”

Some of the invasive species plats du jour on the menu at the potluck included kangaroo chili, wild boar Chinese dumplings, fried catfish, autumn olive cheesecake bars, foxgrape wine and coffee cupcakes, and Red Swamp Crawfish.

Not only are invasive species edible, the students in Barney’s class proved these space invaders are downright tasty.

The span of dishes prepared by the students reflects a trend in the world of haute cuisine that sees invasive species encroaching on another peculiar habitat: fine-dining restaurants.

Is it ever possible to erase invasive species through culinary endeavors? Not likely, says Barney. Invasive species are here to stay no matter how much you pile on your plate.

His students, however, have made a delicious dent.

See the full story on Virginia Tech News.

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