Just as garlic makes vampires turn on their evil heels and run, so up and down the countries woodlands and valleys, the dark shadow of winter is cast to one side as wild garlic emerges out of the brown earth…the musty scent of the woodland floor turns into a pungent aroma of wild umami – you’ll find no sharp toothed blood drinkers in the woods during April, but you will find plenty canny cooks filling their baskets with the addictive flavour of spring. Just as sophisticated eateries in sophisticated cities hail the arrival of wild garlic on their menus with huge fanfairs, so tastebud driven people through the ages have gorged on the green shoots of spring – perhaps with the same delight as todays savvy eaters knowing it was a sign of warmth, sunshine and abundant days to come. Just like blackberries in the atumn, wild garlic makes even the most timid gatherer forage with rampant abandon, grabbing handfuls of the flavoursome green leaves, stuffing bagfuls for pestos. to wilt as spinach and to turn intp soup – delicious, healthy and free -wild garlic is surely the safest to forage, easiest to gather and easiest to use of all the wild plants right? Well not quite -it IS one of the loveliest flavours that natures head chef could conguer up, but you need to pick with a bit more respect than you might imagine to ensure you enjoy wild garlic for a long time to come.…
Gather wild garlic from patches which are abundant and as all good foragers would tell you, only take what you need & don’t pull up clumps of garlic, or rip all the leaves from a patch – if leave your patch looking like you haven’t been there you’re on the right track. I pick wild garlic leaves leaf by leaf – it sounds painstaking, and it’s a lot slower than grabbing handfuls but I do it for a very good reason.…
Far from being the easiest to identify of wild greens, there are some very poisonous lookalikes that lurk in the very same hangouts as wild garlic. Let me introduce you to the shiny green leaves of Lords and Ladies (or Cuckoo Pint – a tiny bite on a leaf makes your mouth feel like it’s being burnt – the up side is that you are likely to spit it out…you’re not so likely to notice you’re eating a highly toxic Lily of the Valley, that’s snuck into your haul or worse still, you’d proably not notice the rouge deadly foxglove leaf or of fatally posionous Meadow Saffron (Autumn Crocus) who in the spring just so happens to be in full leaf yet with no flowers – looking rather like wild garlic. Meadow Saffron is crammed full with an incredibly posionous compound which is as dangerous and deadly as arsenic – it is a native wild flower which grows in meadows and in woodland drives and one of the few places in the UK that it is still going strong is in the West Mildands & Welsh Marches. The carefree afternoon of going crazy in a woodland of wild garlic might not seem so tempting..in fact the thought of foraging when there are so many deadly menaces lurking around every tree trunk might put you off for life…but don’t let it! Follow the simple rules of foraging and you’ll be able to gather wild garlic with confidence and you’ll enjoy a long, fruitful, delicious and sustainable gathering career..
Know what NOT to pick. Make sure you know how to identify wild garlics poisionous lookalikes – these are: Arum maculatum (known as Lords and Ladies or Cuckoo Pint) Lily of the Valley, and Colchicum autmnale (Meadow Saffron or Autumn Crocus)
Arum maculatum leaves have irregular edges and very deep veins on glossy leaves – wild garlic leaves have a single main vein on duller leaves.
Lily of the Valley leaves come from a single purple stem – wild garlic leaves come from individual green coloured stems
Colchicum autumnale (Meadow Saffron or Autumn Crocus) leaves are in full growth in the spring – they are slightly more straplike than wild garlic.
Foxglove leaves are hairy compared to wild garlics smooth leaves, but they grow in the same places and unless you gather carefully they could end up in your basket.
Many people recommend rubbing the leaves of plants they are trying to ID to see if they are garlic scented – be aware though that if your hands already smell of wild garlic it’ll be difficult to work out if it’s a leaf that smells of garlic or your hand – my recommendation is to learn what the poisonous mimics look like, to pick leaf by leaf, not clump by clump. Don’t rush your foray, don’t be greedy and don’t take risks.
Once you’ve learnt what not to pick, and have slowly but surely gathered your well earned treasure , celebrate your responsible foraging by making the most incredible pesto you’re likely to ever pick, make or eat.
200g wild garlic leaves
50g blanched & dried nettle tops
circa 250ml olive or rapeseed oil,
freshly grated or hot horseradish sauce
dried English mustard
cider apple vinegar
75g grated hard cheese (I use Wye Valley cheese)
50g ground toasted hazelnuts.
Wash the wild garlic leaves in water with added vinegar, dry and roughly chop the nettle and wild garlic leaves. Put the leaves leaves into your food processor, add a generous squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of vinegar, a good pinch of mustard powder, a teaspoon of horseradish, a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt, add enough oil to cover the ingredients and blitz until finely blrnded. Add the grated cheese and ground nuts, blend again and then start tasting – season according to your taste. Wild garlic pesto can be kept in the fridge for a week or so – any longer than that & you should store it in the freezer.
It may of taken a careful gather, but once you’ve made your pesto smothered it on meat, veg, pasta & bread, you will be glad you spent the afternoon on your knees in the woods…