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Vermonters eat invasive species

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Richmond, Vermont - May 4, 2010

Brad Elliott from the Richmond Land Trust leads the way through the Winooski River floodplain forest in Richmond, home to a mix of trees, ferns and wildlife that is slowly disappearing from the area.

"Right now, we're walking to the Nature Conservancy preserve," Elliot said.

Japanese knotweed and garlic mustard are invasive species taking over the wooded areas of this region. Elliot and his team from the Nature Conservancy work to root out these invasive species which also weaken the riverbank, lessening its ability to protect Richmond from severe flooding.

"We use dandelion pullers-- just the long piece of steel with a long V at the end-- stick that in and pull it right out," Elliot explained.

The conservancy and land trust recruit volunteers to help eliminate the weeds that at one point came from people's back yards. Both species float down the river from upstream, and every year the river floods, Richmond sees tons of both plants.

"If you keep at it, prevent it from seeding, within about five years, you'll see a huge difference. Then it's just a matter of maintenance," Elliot said.

As the conservancy removes this invasive plant from the banks of the Winooski River, the good news is it's edible. And area restaurants use it as an ingredient in their meals.

Just down the road from the conservancy, Elliot makes a special delivery to a Richmond staple.

"This will probably make a cup of pesto," said Rachel Barone of On the Rise Bakery.

Barone takes the garlic mustard with open arms since it can be used as a basil substitute. What we would normally see as a weed, she sees as a delicacy.

"Potential ingredient, I guess," she said. "A pizza topping, a crepe filling, sandwich spread, pretty much anything you would do with basil you can do with garlic mustard."

Today, the pesto sauce created with garlic mustard, walnuts, parmesan and a hint of olive oil will evolve into a flavorful pizza sauce.

"This is the final product, on a pizza," she said, displaying the pizza.

Turning a nuisance from the woods, into gourmet treats in the kitchen.

Melinda Davenport - WCAX News

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