Invasive species lack natural predators, so why not do what we humans do best and reduce the populations of unwanted invaders? Historically, many invasive species were even introduced as food. This principle applies equally to plants, like Himalayan blackberry, crabgrass, and kudzu, and to animals, like garden snails, carp, and bullfrogs. Not only are these animals living the free-range life and eating clean food, but the ecosystem is actually better off without them. So, why not be adventurous? Meat doesn't get greener than this!
5 Ways to Eat Invasive Species
Believe it or not, but your average garden snail is actually the exact same species of snail as the ones used in France to make "petit gris" escargot. Instead of spreading toxic poisons to get rid of your gastropod pests, why not eat the little delicacies instead? Try collecting the snails live, and keep them for two weeks in a dark, protected box with lettuce or cornmeal as food. This will help flush any poisonous plants they may have eaten out of their systems. Then boil the snails in water until their slime is cooked off (it will appear as scum on the surface of the water, which you can skim away). Pull them from their shells and prepare as you would any other escargot .
2.) Wild Boar-B-Q
Snails not your thing? Then how about some baby back ribs? In the United States, introduced wild boars have bred with escaped farm swine to make a hybrid hog that rips up native plants, pollutes streams, and competes with native deer and quail for food. Lots of people already hunt and eat wild boar where they are found in California and the southeastern states, and they're said to taste much like farmed pork, but with less fat.
3.) Lionfish Fillet
Accidentally introduced by the aquarium trade, lionfish take over coral reefs and other coastal habitats from Mexico through Florida to North Carolina, eating everything smaller than themselves. They're tricky edibles, protecting themselves with sharp, venomous spines, but their meat is white and mild. Lionfish are caught by spearfishing in many areas.
4.) Frog's Legs
Bullfrogs are native in the eastern United States, but have been introduced west of the Rockies, to be used as a replacement frog's legs for the depleted native species. The bullfrogs soon escaped from these frog farms, and now chow down on everything from small fish to rodents, all the while spreading chytrid fungus to other frogs. So why not eat them? They're easy to catch with a flashlight and a net or spear.
5.) Softshell Crab
Listed as one of the "100 worst invasive species" by the Invasive Species Specialist Group, the green shore crab is a European species that competes with native crabs. Though smaller than the crabs that we usually eat, the this species is definitely edible, and most recommended in late spring, when they shed their skins and become "softshells" for a time.
Most invasive species can be hunted and fished even without a license, such as green iguanas in Florida or Asian carp in the Mississippi. Even some restaurants have gotten on the edible invasive train, such as Miya's Sushi in New Haven, which serves up lionfish and European periwinkles in a menu dedicated to invaders. For more info, try Eat the Invaders or Invasivore .
--Photo credit iStockphoto/Westergren
--Rachael Monosson is an editorial intern for Sierra and a recent graduate of Stanford University, where she studied Earth Systems. She lives in San Mateo.