Invasivores rejoice: Five edible species from our own backyard

Invasivores rejoice: Five edible species from our own backyard

Vegans, freegans, locavores: eco-conscious dining takes many forms. The New Year could herald an addition to that list with the emergence of “invasivores.” According to the New York Times, the inklings of a new “green” culinary movement are underway, wherein participants seek out, kill and dine on destructive and invasive species, like the venomous lionfish that’s been wreaking havoc on marine systems in Florida and elsewhere. For Torontonians looking to join the party, there are a number of out-of-control, detrimental and perfectly edible alien species to choose from. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a way to include bed bugs or giant hogweed onto the list, but below, five invasive species worthy of the table.

(Image: Gary J. Wood) 

GARLIC MUSTARD
This herb was likely brought to North America by pioneers who used it for cooking and medicine. It’s since become a huge problem in many areas, including Ontario, because it hogs light, moisture and nutrients from other plants. The government recommends it to be destroyed where possible, but it can be used to treat bronchitis, eczema and asthma, and imparts a mild garlic flavour to salads.

(Image: Andres Musta) 

ZEBRA MUSSELS
These mollusks were introduced to the Great Lakes by foreign ships in the late ’80s. Their tendency to filter water excessively has had a huge negative impact on aquatic life since then. They breed quickly and have few natural predators – which is where we come in. Technically speaking, zebra mussels are edible, though they could have contaminants stored in them, and probably aren’t very tasty. Perhaps a garnish of garlic mustard would do the trick?

(Image: Sina, Bigshot Fotos, from the torontolife.com Flickr pool) 

CANADA GEESE
They may not be an “invasive” species per se, but they often end up migrating to other areas, where they’re officially considered invasive. Often, they take up residence in areas and become a nuisance, or even worse, contaminate waterways with their ungodly amount of feces. The Toronto Zoo has taken umbrage with them, going so far as to fire laser beams at them to make them go away. It’s almost unpatriotic to say, but these honking creatures can be turned into sausage, prosciutto and confit.

(Image: Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, LSU) 

ASIAN CARP
This destructive species is on the verge of invading the Great Lakes, which could cause widespread bedlam due to their voracious appetite and capacity to grow huge (up to 40-50 kilograms or so). We might as well get our bibs out in preparation. Some entrepreneurs are already marketing them as “silverfin.” According to the Chicago Tribune, at least one chef says they taste pretty good, like a cross between scallops and crab meat.

(Image: Manitoba Water Stewardship) 

RUSTY CRAYFISH
Originating in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, this aggressive crayfish was introduced to Toronto waterways by fisherman using it as bait. The bad-tempered crustaceans are more aggressive and have larger appetites than their native counterparts, making them a significant biodiversity problem. The good news is that they’re also a Cajun culinary delicacy. It’s probably about time étoufée became popular in Toronto anyway.