A Message for All Ages: “Garlic Mustard”

The seeds of the Kingdom of God always surprise us – often originating as what others see as a weed or a nuisance. And yet – they grow and grow and grow, and are unstoppable. … This is how our faith is: small beginnings that produce wonderful results we didn’t know could happen!

Garlic Mustard Plants in Full Bloom
Garlic Mustard Plants in Full Bloom

This particular lesson looks at the Parable of the Mustard Seed, which is found (with only minor differences) in Matthew 13:31–32, Mark 4:30–32, and Luke 13:18–19.

This lesson works best when presented at the time of the year (May or early June) when the “Garlic Mustard” plant – an invasive weed here in the U.S. – is in blossom.  It is often widespread in the understory of forested areas, and can also be found growing in disturbed soils, including along the edges of roads, paths, fences, etc.

Materials you’ll need:

  • One or more full Garlic Mustard plants.  If the seed pods are present (spike-like extensions at the top of the plant), be careful in handling them to avoid propagating the weed any more than it already is!
  • As a popular and fun bonus, I’d recommend making Garlic Mustard Pesto.  I typically offer this Pesto as a dip alongside small bread rounds or rice crackers during the post-service coffee hour.  While delivering this message, I tell the audience it will be there.  (It tastes great, and usually disappears very quickly!)

A listing of the points I usually make while giving this Message:

  1. Show the plant and describe it, pass it around, encourage people to crush and smell the leaves.
  2. The visual differences are that the Mustard plant (at least the kind of Mustard plant referred-to in the Parable) is a little taller (3-4 feet instead of 2-3 feet); and has yellow flowers instead of white.  Both species are found throughout Europe and Asia.
  3. Garlic Mustard is a close relative of the “Mustard Plant” referred-to in the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
  4. Mustard and Garlic Mustard are Biennials – meaning that the plant lives for two years.  It reaches full size, flowers and disperses its seeds only in the second year.  Its seeds can survive in the ground for up to five years.
  5. The roots disperse cyanide-based chemicals that prevent competing plants from growing.
  6. No one is quite sure how the plant got to the U.S.,  It was originally brought over either by the original colonists in the 1600’s; or perhaps by European immigrants around the year 1900.
  7. The plant was originally brought over as a seasoning for foods and salads, because it was (obviously, given its invasive nature) easy to grow; and – if the early colonists did bring it – because they had few other seasonings available to make their rather bland diet more interesting and flavorful (it was popular in England at the time as a seasoning for salted fish).
  8. It is rich in Vitamins A and D and also has some medicinal uses.
  9. The first essential point of this message is that this is a weed – and is incredibly invasive.  No gardener in their right mind would ever plant it in their garden because it would take over the entire garden within a year or so.  Those who heard Jesus saying it should be sown or planted would have thought he was nuts!
  10. Why does Jesus say that it is deliberately sown (in Matthew and Mark) or planted in the garden (in Luke)?
  11. The second central point is that the Garlic Mustard plant is neither a bush nor a tree.  And, unlike what the parable says, Birds cannot nest in its branches – in fact, it has no branches (it is a weed after all)!
  12. Since it isn’t a tree or shrub, why does Jesus say it is in the parable?

After listening to your audience’s responses to the two questions above, you can suggest the following:

Because it is an invasive weed with tiny, very hard to see seeds, the Garlic Mustard Plant (and Mustard Plant) often apparently explode out of nowhere.  This is kind of like the Kingdom of God: you don’t see it, but the seeds of it are all around you.  And, once you do see it, you realize that it’s too late – there is no way to get rid of it!  And, nothing can stop it – once it begins to grow, it displaces whatever else is growing there.

The seeds of the Kingdom of God always surprise us – often originating as what others see as a weed or a nuisance.  And yet – they grow and grow and grow, and are unstoppable, but – unlike the mustard plant – the seeds of the Kingdom of God produce wonderful and unexpected things despite their humble appearance and despite what we think we know about it.  God’s seeds grow into great trees and huge shrubs that will shelter all birds.  This is how our faith is: small beginnings that produce wonderful results that we didn’t know could happen.

Finally, Even though we may not be able to see something – the seeds – they are there, all around us.  God sees them, and God will make them grow!


Copyright (c) 2015, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Author: Allen

A would-be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is the proud father of a daughter and son, and enjoys life with his wife near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PastorAllenV/.

2 thoughts on “A Message for All Ages: “Garlic Mustard””

  1. I once had a scripture professor who said that you should never assume current English terms equal the same terms in scripture. Also, he knew his Bible plants. So, mustard seed in the scripture often refered to salvadora persica tree in the middle east. It is related to the evergreen and can grow up to 25 feet. It’s twigs were used as the first tooth brushes because of their antibacterial qualities. This mustard seed tree is not the mustard seed type that produces mustard. The mustard seed tree is also mentioned in the Qur’an. Thus, Jesus was correct about the tree.
    (You don’t have to publish this comment, I can tell you really like your telling of the story. :-))


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