Around this time of year, wild garlic starts to bloom on the cool, shady, woodland floors across the UK, Europe, and parts of Asia. One of my favourite things to do in early Spring is to go foraging with friends, bringing home a big bag of wild garlic leaves with its white starry flowers to make into once-a-year delicacies.
Wild garlic has been known as a health food since the ancient Greeks. It has been used as a remedy for many things from snake bites to warding off demons. During the last pandemic in 1918, people stuffed their pockets full of wild garlic in the belief that it would ward off the Spanish flu. Obviously, don’t try this method for our own pandemic…
Wild garlic is, however, extremely nutritious and is high in vitamin C.
Of wild garlic, poet Sean Hewitt writes:
Out in the copse after rain
(too late after dark to be here).
Warm soil, woodlice dripping
from the underside of leaves –
I root down to the tender stalks
and twist them free – soaked petals
dip and touch my arm, kernels
of bud, itch of foliage, of wildness
on my skin. The wood is carrying
the smell, earth-rich, too heavy
to lift above head-height, and my boots
and jeans are bleached with it.
I turn home, and all across the floor
the spiked white flowers
light the way. The world is dark
but the wood is full of stars.
Wild garlic grows across Oxfordshire – there are even thriving patches in the middle of the city!
The best way to forage for wild garlic is to go with someone can teach you how to locate and reliably identify it. It is quite easy but there are a few highly toxic plants that look a bit similar to wild garlic -so you need to be absolutely confident in identifying it.
This is the best video I’ve found on identifying wild garlic but please, if you’re not confident – go with someone who has regularly foraged for it over the years (so is still alive – the proof is in the pudding) and is confident.
Once you’ve brought home your wild garlic, soak it in a full sink of water with some food safe vegetable soak - I use Dr Bronner’s SAL SUDS – for 15 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly in cold, running water. Shake off the excess water and inspect each leaf before putting it into an airtight container or resealable plastic bag to be stored in the fridge. At this point, I often find a random leaf of something else in the mix – usually something I definitely don’t want to eat.
Treated this way, wild garlic should keep well in the fridge for 3 or 4 days. Wild garlic can be eaten raw or cooked. I love to eat it raw – shredded in salads or as a garnish in soups. My favourite and quickest way to eat wild garlic is to make wild garlic pesto, along with some very ripe, Isle of Wight cherry tomatoes, stirred through the freshly cooked pasta. My method is simple and takes less than 10 minutes: put everything into a blender and blend, adding olive oil until it reaches a consistency that will stir through pasta easily. Add salt to taste.
Here are the ingredients:
150g of wild garlic leaves
50g of nutritional yeast
3 cloves of garlic
50g brazil nuts
Extra virgin olive oil
This amount should flavour enough pasta to feed four people with elegant appetites or two very hungry people. Sprinkle some wild garlic flowers over the pasta if the fancy takes you.
There is something so primal and uplifting about eating something delicious that you’ve foraged for…
This pesto’s strong, savoury, nutty kick feels like both an indulgence and a health food – and will please both vegans and non-vegans alike.