We all love to see wild garlic appearing in woodlands at this time of year. But what can we do with it?

We asked James Wood, author of  The Foragers Cook Book if he could share some hints and tips of do’s and don’ts

“One of our highlights of the year is Wild Garlic and it’s just starting to pop its fragrant leaves from the damp woodland floors around our Countryside. Throughout the month it will begin to carpet the banks of rivers and streams before sending out a pomp pom of white flowers, which can also be eaten. Throughout March and all the way through to June – I must eat this plant with at least one meal a day, if not more, from having it salted with a cheese board and strong elderberry port to dicing it and chucking it into a chilli or simply wilting it down in a hot pan for 1 minute with a little butter and enjoying it as a side dish – I love the stuff!”

Botanical Name: Allium Ursinum

Known Hazards
Reports of toxicity if eating sacks full, but such outcomes no doubt apply to many foods eaten to excess.

Could be confused with…
The leaves could potentially be confused with both the poisonous leaves of Lilly of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) and Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum), although neither of these smell of garlic. The biggest risk is to accidentally gather up Lords and Ladies leaves through being inattentive whilst collecting garlic leaves as these often grow together.

Range and Distribution…
Wild garlic is found all over Europe, most of Asia and North America.

Habitat…
It’s typically found in broad leaved woodland, enjoying a moist verge, preferring but not solely found on acidic soil. It tends to leaf and flower before the broad leaved trees come in to leaf and gives the whole woodland an amazing smell of garlic.

Physical Characteristics…
Wild garlic is a bulbous, perennial plant, going into leaf from as early as January. Its leaves are spear shaped with a pointed tip, and can range from 5-15cms in length and 3-6cm wide.
Each plant has one single flower head that sits on top of a solitary stem, shooting up from the centre of the connecting leaves and looks like a white pompom sat on top of a pole. The white flower contains 6 petals ranging from 0.5-1cm in diameter. The root resembles that of a small but elongated clove of garlic.

Edible Uses…

Roots and bulb: best harvested when the plant is not in leaf from June-January. Use the bulb as regular garlic although be aware that it is somewhat fibrous. The roots can be dried and powdered to be used as a seasoning. The bulbs also pickle well.
Stem/leaves (early Spring): salad item, cooked as a vegetable, to flavour oil, as a wrap, for pesto, leaf curd.
Flower bud (Feb/March): tempura (using stem as handle), pickled
Flower (March/April): salads, as a garnish.
Immature seeds (May/June): salads, garnish, pickled.
Mature seeds (May/June): as a condiment or spice, for sprouting.
Bulb (July/March): as regular garlic clove

Medicinal…
As with regular garlic, wild garlic helps to reduce blood pressure, therefore aiding heart disease and reducing the chances of a stroke. It’s also worth adding that wild garlic has antibacterial, antibiotic and antiseptic properties.

WILD GARLIC RECIPE IDEAS.

Wild Garlic Cream Cheese

This is possibly one of the most simple ways I enjoy wild garlic, once made it can be used on a cracker with a little smoked salmon or can be used to stuff a chicken breast before baking, it can be passed through pasta to make wild garlic creamy pasta or mixed with grated cabbage and carrot to make a creamy wild garlic coleslaw.

Ingredients:

  • 500g full fat cream cheese
  • 50g wild garlic, finely chopped
  • Plenty of salt and pepper

Method:

Place everything in a large bowl and mix thoroughly, add more wild garlic if you like it a little stronger and season to your taste. I blitz mine in a food processor to make it really smooth and glossy.

Wild Garlic Pesto Pasta

The pesto I make with wild garlic is thick, chunky and delicious. It works with a huge range of recipes, from stuffing chicken breast to serving as wild garlic bread and of course the classic pesto and pasta. We make a whole load when it’s in season, bag it in zip-seal bags and keep in the freezer for whenever you need it.

Ingredients:

–                 One hand/50g fresh Wild Garlic – stems and leaves

–                 One hand/50g Nettle tops

–                 80g cob nuts – crushed (or mixed nuts)

–                 80g hard cheese grated – parmesan

–                 100ml olive oil

–                 Basil to taste

–                 10 Sorrel leaves (or the juice of half a lemon)

–                 400g penne pasta

Method:

– Bring a pan of water to the boil, add a pinch of salt and the dried pasta, this will take about 8 minutes in which time you can make the pesto.

  1. Chop the nettles and wild garlic into small pieces, use gloves so you don’t get stung.
  2. If you have a food processor, chuck the nettle, wild garlic, cob nuts and sorrel leaves and basil in and blitz very quickly, 10 seconds at a time so it’s well mixed but still crunchy. (once nettles have been blitzed or crushed they no longer sting)
  3. If not put the wild garlic, nettle tops, sorrel leaves and mixed nuts in a pestle and mortar and grind well, add basil as you like (I prefer it without)
  4. In a bowl mix the garlic, nettle and nut paste to the grated cheese and add oil until you reach a consistency your happy with, season to taste.
  5. Drain the pasta, place in a large bowl and toss the pesto through it, enjoy with garlic bread and an extra sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Or store the pesto in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, alternatively bag and freeze using within 1 year.

Recipes featured in ‘The Foragers Cook Book’