This time of year always sees a rush of Instagram and blog posts about bluebells and wild garlic. You know what – until I actually started looking for wild garlic I had no idea just how abundant it is! As soon as I could identify it’s long thick leaves and spidery white flowers I started seeing it all over the place! May is a perfect time to gather wild garlic leaves for cooking as the plant is in flower and so is easy to identify. The flowers are edible too and make a great addition to salads or a lovely garnish. I’ve even seen them fried as tempura!
Finding wild garlic
Wild garlic tends to like shady spots ideally in woodland and actually often grows near bluebells as they like similar conditions. It grows almost like a mat along wooded banks and can cover a huge amount of ground as it grows like a weed. For that reason it’s not super ideal for gardens although it will stick to shady areas and won’t venture far out into open clearings.
Wild garlic is quite similar in appearance to lily of the valley so care should be taken to slightly tear a leaf and smell it – if it pongs of garlic then you’ve got the right plant. To be honest, it’s actually pretty difficult to go wrong.
But before you hurry out of the door with your wellies and foraging basket, I want to share a couple of useful foraging “dos and don’ts”.
1. Make sure you have the right plant by following the instructions above – smell it first. If it’s your first time trying it, taste a tiny piece before gathering any more. If you feel any tingling or discomfort then don’t pick any more as you may be allergic.
2. Only gather what you need and try to only take a small amount from each plant. You want to make sure you don’t kill any of the plants so that you have a good wild garlic stock to come back to! Also, it’s illegal in the U.K. to uproot plants without permission so only take leaves and flowers.
3. Be mindful of woodland wildlife. As I mentioned above, wild garlic forms a mat of green on the woodland floor so it’s important to be aware that there may be wildlife sheltering underneath. Take care not to be too heavy footed and move slowly so that animals have time to move if they need to.
4. Wash it before cooking – obviously.
Using wild garlic in the kitchen
Wild garlic makes a great fresh-flavoured alternative to bulb garlic in sauces and soups, but it’s best added towards the end of cooking. I (like a lot of wild garlic fans) love to make this wild garlic pesto which is beautiful stirred into pasta or spread over toast and topped with fresh cherry tomatoes.
Wild garlic only grows in the first half of the year, so I like to preserve it a couple of different ways. One way is to blend it up with olive oil and freeze in an ice cube mould to make these wild garlic flavour bombs. Just drop them into sauces or defrost and use as the start of a salad dressing – you could even make more pesto!
In a similar vein I also like to stir some chopped wild garlic in to some softened butter and then put in the fridge to set. You can even freeze these too so that they last even longer. The butter is great melted over jersey royals or served on top of a juicy steak. If you want you can add parsley for a wild garlic and parsley butter which would work really well melted into a baguette for an easy garlic bread.
I would love to see more people making use of these natural foods that are on our doorsteps, especially when they grow as abundantly as wild garlic. I’m hoping to bring more posts about foraging in the coming months so let me know if you have any foraging questions or tips!
Have any of you used wild garlic? What are your favourite things to do with it?