6 Edible Invasive Species Recipes

Close up of a cactus plant
Photo: Martin and Kathy Dady/Flickr [CC by ND-2.0]

Remember when dandelions were just weeds? Eating invasive species has gone way beyond the grad-school experimentation stage to become a wing of the food movement as conservationists and chefs embrace an “If you can’t beat 'em, eat 'em,” ethos to tackle pesky interlopers. Worldwide the situation is daunting as flora and fauna hitch rides on ships, or are set loose due to the carelessness of owners. If you want to make a dent, try picking up a knife and fork. But before you do, go foraging with a wooly hunter-gatherer-type friend who knows the vittles and the area.

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Fennel-Infused Vodka

Photo: Natalia Bulatova/Shutterstock

An herb that grows with wild abandon in California’s Mediterranean climate, fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) roots in disturbed soil, preventing native plants from taking hold. Combine the licorice-flavored plant with vodka to produce a wickedly powerful aperitif or cocktail. Fennel-Infused Vodka


  • 1/4 cup fennel leaves, chopped and loosely packed
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds (available in supermarkets)
  • 16 ounces vodka or Everclear
  • 12 ounces simple syrup

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes plus six days to infuse


  1. In an airtight container combine fennel seeds, leaves and vodka. Seal.
  2. Store in a cool dark place for up to six days. Remove fennel. Add simple syrup. Refrigerate. Serve in shot glasses.

Yield: Almost 1 quart

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Nopales Rancheros (Prickly Pear Cactus Over Eggs)

Photo: Andrelix/Shutterstock

Once considered the bane of man and beast in ranch country, the flat, tender pads, or nopales, of prickly pear cactus (Oputnia species) have long been a staple in the kitchens of the Southwest. The hardy cacti have colonized dry sandy hillsides as far away as New England, Hawaii and Australia. Nopales Rancheros (Prickly Pear Cactus Over Eggs)


  • 4 to 6 hand-sized nopales
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes


To prepare the nopales:

  1. Using a paring knife carefully remove hand-sized pads from the cactus plant.
  2. Rinse and drain on paper towels. Trim top and edges, being careful to remove spurs.
  3. Using serrated knife, scrape surface of nopales to remove thorns. Cut into half-inch sections.

To prepare the eggs:

  1. Beat eggs in large mixing bowl until blended, about two minutes.
  2. Over medium heat add oil to large skillet. Add onions and tomato. Sauté until onions are almost tender, about 3 minutes.
  3. Pour contents of mixing bowl into skillet. Cook gently, stirring until eggs firm. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook eggs in two batches if necessary. Serve hot.

Serves 4

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Lionfish Nachos

Photo: Jacek Jasinski/Shutterstock

A voracious predator, the lionfish (Pterois volitans) has taken up residence in the Atlantic Ocean along the southern U.S. coastline, posing a threat to marine ecosystems. In their new book, “The Lionfish Cookbook,” Chef Tricia Ferguson and the conservation organization REEF contend the best place for this flamboyant fish is on the end of a fork. Lionfish Nachos


  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 8 wonton wrappers
  • 1/4 cup wasabi mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sweet Thai chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 8 lionfish fillets
  • 1 cup seaweed salad (available at Asian markets)

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes


  1. Place oil in small frying pan and heat until hot. Add one wonton wrapper in pan at a time. Cook briefly until it starts to bubble, about 10 seconds. Turn over and cook another 10 seconds. Remove and drain on paper towel.
  2. Put wasabi mayonnaise into a squeeze bottle and set aside. Combine sweet soy sauce, sweet chili sauce and soy sauce in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Spray large skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Cook lionfish fillets in skillet over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes until flaky and tender. Cut or flake lionfish into small pieces. Toss lionfish in soy sauce mixture.
  4. Place lionfish on wonton wrappers, top with seaweed salad and drizzle with wasabi mayonnaise. Serve hot.

Serves 8

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Garlic Mustard Pesto

Photo: Maxal Tamor/Shutterstock

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) has invaded the woodlands of the Midwest and Upper Peninsula of Michigan. To stem the rapid spread, the Kalamazoo Nature Center published “From Pest to Pesto" (PDF) to promote greater awareness. This recipe was adapted from the book. Garlic Mustard Pesto


  • 3 cups garlic mustard greens, chopped and packed. Pick greens from an unsprayed area and thoroughly wash them.
  • 6 ounces pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon garlic mustard root, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
  • 6 ounces virgin olive oil
  • 8 cups cooked penne pasta
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes


  1. Toss mustard greens, pine nuts, root and chives into food processor. Add olive oil slowly while blending.
  2. Serve with cooked penne pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Serves 6 to 8

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Himalayan Blackberry Cobbler

Photo: Katrina Outland/Shutterstock

Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) are the scourge of Gortex-clad denizens living on the western slopes of the Cascade Range. The thick overgrown brambles that locals love to hate yield a delectable fruit that turns even die-hard urbanites into avid berry pickers. Himalayan Blackberry Cobbler


  • 2 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • Pinch cinnamon and sugar
  • Ice cream (optional)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes


  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. In medium-sized bowl combine blackberries and sugar. Let stand for about 20 minutes at room temperature.
  3. In large bowl combine flour, salt, milk and baking powder. Stir in melted butter until well blended. Pour into baking pan, spreading evenly. Pour blackberry mixture on top.
  4. Bake 35 to 45 minutes until dough rises and crust is golden. Dust with cinnamon and sugar. Serve hot with ice cream.

Serves six to eight.

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Wild Boar Confit with Gnocchi and Maple Glaze Sus Scorta

The Nature Conservancy.

Chef Michael Martin at Tuli Bistro and The Nature Conservancy developed this recipe for feral pig. Originally imported from Europe for food, wild boars are now tearing up native habitats from Florida to Oregon. Wild Boar Confit with Gnocchi and Maple Glaze Sus Scorta


For the wild pig confit:

  • 2 1/2 pounds wild pig, cut into 2-inch cubes (belly recommended)
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon cracked pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 juniper berries
  • Dried herbs of choice such as thyme, nutmeg and sage, to taste
  • 6 cups rendered pork fat, lard or duck fat
  • 2 cups baby mustard greens, chopped
  • 6 1/2 ounces sweet potatoes
  • 6 1/2 ounces russet potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ounces agave nectar
  • Nutmeg to taste
  • 1 cup flour
  • Handful rice flour for the work station
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup Parmesan, grated

Prep time: 1 hour

Total time: 6 hours, spread over two days

(Recipe continues on next slide)

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Wild Boar Confit with Gnocchi and Maple Glaze Sus Scorta (continued)



For the meat:

  1. The night before: Rub meat with salt, pepper, spices and herbs. Let rest in refrigerator overnight.
  2. The next day: Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Rinse off all spices and salt and place in baking dish. Cover meat with warmed rendered fat. Cook in oven until tender, about 3-4 hours. Keep meat in its fat to cool. You can also let it rest in refrigerator overnight.
  3. To finish: Take meat out of fat and reheat in hot oven, until meat is warm throughout and exterior has turned a rich dark brown.
  1. Pierce potatoes with fork. Bake until fully cooked, about 45 minutes.
  2. Scoop flesh into large bowl and mash. Add eggs, agave, seasonings and mix until well blended.
  3. Add flour, a little at a time until soft dough forms.
  4. Lightly dust work surface with rice flour. Divide dough into 6 equal balls on work surface. Roll out each ball into 1-inch-wide rope. Cut each rope into 1-inch pieces. Roll gnocchi over tines of a fork.
  5. Transfer formed gnocchi to large baking sheet. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add gnocchi and cook until tender but firm to the bite, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  1. While gnocchi are cooking, melt 1/2 stick butter in large sauté pan over medium heat, swirling butter occasionally until foam subsides and milk solids begin to brown.
  2. Stir in two tablespoons each of maple syrup and vinegar. Add one teaspoon lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Toss gnocchi, meat and mustard greens in saucepan. Swirl until items are evenly coated. Transfer to bowl and finish with extra apple maple glaze sauce and grated Parmesan.

Serves 4 to 6