Notes from the Field: Edible Invasives

Wild mustard grows at MLK Shoreline in Oakland.

Walking down the path along the MLK shoreline or the Palo Alto Baylands you may be passing a pantry of invasive plants. In fact many invasive species crowding out our native California species have edible parts. Fennel, mustard, Himalayan blackberry, and wild radish are just a few examples of numerous invasive species taking over ecosystems around the Bay.

It’s not just coincidence that these plants are edible to humans. As the first European settlers brought mustard seed and fennel to grow in their fields, they were introducing plants to a whole new world of potential with few threats to their spread. These plants, foreign to the native flora and fauna, have little to no limiting factors (i.e. predators, disease, intolerable climates) that would otherwise keep their populations in control. Now in our efforts to restore coastal marshes around the San Francisco Bay, part of our work is to remove these invasive species.

mustard from the marsh
Mustard made from invasive mustard seeds collected at MLK Shoreline.

The next time you find yourself cruising the shoreline, try to identify some of these edible invaders. You can even try cooking with these plants (as long as you properly identify them). Our former Restoration Specialist Crescent Calimpong made four different kinds of mustard from seeds collected at our restoration sites around the Bay.

Here are some recipes for making your own country mustard and some wild fennel seed cookies:

Homemade Yellow Mustard

  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • Your pick of spices (honey, horseradish, fresh herbs), all optional

1. Soak the mustard seeds in the vinegar and water, making sure the seeds are covered by the liquid. Leave soaking for 2 days.
2. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor and process, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, until the seeds are coarsely ground and the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes
3. Add the sugar and spices to the seeds mixture. Begin with about 1 tsp. of each spice. Blend mixture until it reaches desired consistency, adding water if needed. Add more spice to taste.

Wild Fennel Seed Cookies

  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seed
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups flour


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a blender, briefly whirl together 1 cup sugar and the fennel seed to break up some of the seeds. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly cream together the blended fennel-sugar, the remaining cup of sugar, and the butter. Add the eggs, orange juice, water and vanilla, and mix briefly.
2. In another bowl, mix the baking powder, salt and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed ingredients and mix well. The dough will be stiff.
3. Divide the dough into four pieces and form each into a flattened ball. On a floured surface, roll each ball 1/4-inch thick and cut out shapes. Place them on greased or nonstick baking sheets and bake about 8 minutes, or until the cookies are light brown.

Happy foraging!


Why Foodies Should Care About the Bay

Sacramento River Delta
The Sacramento River Delta flows through a patchwork of farms straight to the Bay. A healthy Bay is dependent on sound agricultural practices. (Photo by

When I tell friends and former colleagues that I’ve started working here at Save The Bay, many express surprise that I’m not in food anymore. I tell them I still am.

I’ve been working in food and on food and agriculture issues most of my professional life, but I haven’t switched fields, just my perspective. As a longtime advocate for a healthy food system I know my work at Save The Bay will keep me linked to the world of good food advocacy. Because it’s all connected.

The obsession with good food here in the Bay Area is not confined to food professionals. The latest restaurants, food trucks, and rock star farmers are hot topics of conversation in offices and living rooms all over the Bay.  But I bet most foodies don’t often stop to consider the important role that a healthy Bay plays in our foodshed.

Connecting the Dots

Did you know, for example, that nearly two-thirds of the state’s salmon pass through the Bay on their yearly migration? Or that our celebrated Dungeness crabs depend on estuary habitats in the Bay to make it through their first year?  Or that three-quarters of the nation’s fish production depends on marshes and other wetland environments? The wetlands that ring San Francisco Bay play an important role in giving life to hundreds of fish and wildlife species and billions of small organisms that form the base of the food chain for salmon, crabs, and the other creatures we eat.

In my past life, I spent a lot of time communicating about the environmental impacts of food production—from how pesticides affect our air and water, to how factory farming contributes to climate change. With the Bay sitting downstream from some of the world’s most productive farmland linked through a series of channels, creeks, and other waterways, the health of the Bay is directly tied to agricultural practices.

Nutrients from farmland flow directly into the Bay, fueling phytoplankton blooms that feed other creatures. Too many nutrients from overuse of fertilizers can cause harmful blooms and choke out life in the Bay. In some cases, the farms themselves are part of the Bay food chain. For example, the Bay Delta wetlands provide habitat for waterfowl that feed on gleaned rice from the paddies.

Climate Change, the Bay, and Food Production

Here’s another compelling reason to think about the Bay and our local foodshed as inextricably linked: the food system contributes around one-third of all greenhouse gasses.  But a healthy Bay can help mitigate those effects. Scientists have learned that tidal salt marshes, such as the ones ringing the Bay, are efficient at capturing carbon from greenhouse gasses. Every acre of restored, healthy salt marsh captures and converts at least 870 kg of carbon dioxide into plant material annually—equivalent to the emissions of 2,280 auto miles.

When I stop to think that the vital wetland restoration work we do here at Save The Bay can actually counteract the impacts of food production on our environment, I know that I’ve landed in the right place. Of course it helps that our water cooler conversations often revolve around who has the best peaches at the farmers’ market, which food trucks are parked over on 12th street, and what recipe we’re going to try tonight.

As we go about our lives compartmentalizing passions such as cooking and eating, it’s easy to forget that everything’s interrelated. So here’s a reminder: next time you’re heading to the other side of the Bay on a culinary adventure, think of that big, beautiful body of water not as something to drive over or BART under, but instead appreciate it as a crucial part of the foodshed.