Emma Cullen heads into the forest to forage wild garlic…
Spring time is my favourite time of year. The sun is just warming up, leaves are unfurling and the bluebells are out. It’s the best time of year to head out into the countryside for a leisurely walk.
On a recent ramble into the countryside, I was greeted by a purple haze, gently shimmering beneath the trees and on the air the smell of wild garlic. I have always loved this soft natural fragrance; when I was growing up this scent marked the beginning of spring. We’re lucky in Bristol to have so many green spaces, so if you can’t get out to the countryside there are places like Ashton Court and Badock’s Wood which are just as full of wildlife, flowers and fresh foragable garlic.
On my last trip into the woods, I took a little bag and gathered a big bunch of wild garlic leaves to use at home. So, it was not just a leisurely walk, but a highly productive one in terms of stocking up my larder for the coming weeks.
Benefits of wild garlic
Although wild garlic has many nicknames ranging from bear’s garlic and gypsy’s onions to particularly nasty ones like stinking Jenny and devil’s garlic, it is actually incredibly good for you as well as pretty tasty stuff.
Among its claims to fame is the ability to:
• Control blood pressure: wild garlic brings relief for many hypertension (high blood pressure) sufferers
• Prevent strokes
• Help prevent thrombosis
In addition, wild garlic contains antiseptic properties, antibacterial properties, and detoxifying properties. It’s an all-round good egg.
There is plenty of ways to use wild garlic. Chop some up and add to a risotto or sprinkle on top of a buttered jacket potato; add to a sandwich or simply pop the leaves in a fresh salad. The options are endless, but here are a few favourites:
Recipes for wild garlic
Wild garlic scrambled eggs
Trekking up through the garlic clad woodlands soon works up an appetite, and there’s nothing better than a plate of scrambled egg on toast, flecked with freshly picked wild garlic, as a pick-me-up. It’s easy peasy and best made with local, fresh, organic and free-range eggs.
3 fresh organic eggs
3 pieces of toast
Four or five wild garlic leaves
Pepper (to taste)
A knob of butter
Beat the eggs with the pepper. While butter is melting over a gentle heat in the saucepan, wash the garlic leaves thoroughly with cold water and chop roughly into thin strips. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and gently stir. Add the garlic just before the scrambled egg looks done; when it’s still a bit wet. Don’t forget to toast and butter your bread. Serve and tuck in.
Wild garlic soup
It is April after all, and still a bit on the chilly side. The sun might be out but I still find myself curling up under a blanket on the sofa when the sun goes down. So a bowl of warm, creamy yet light soup is perfect for an April evening. Plus there’s the added bonus that it’s super easy to make. You could literally make this with your eyes closed and it’s a really adaptable recipe – maybe add in some leeks or peas, if you fancy.
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
Generous bunch of wild garlic
300ml of vegetable stock
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onions and potatoes. Cook for about ten minutes before gradually introducing the stock. Continue to cook and add the stock gently (I find a glass of wine in hand and having the radio on helps with this process). When all of the stock is incorporated mix in the garlic leaves before blending the mixture with a hand blender. I reserved a few chopped leaves and the flower for garnish.
Wild garlic cheese scones
I used this recipe from the Greedy Gardener to make deliciously cheesy scones with a hint of garlic. I’ve made a batch to enjoy with my garlic soup at work this week. You might think that’s a little excessive, but in fact wild garlic is not as strong as the traditional ‘bulb’ garlic you find in the supermarket. It’s a wild relative of the chive and as such has a softer flavour. Similar to the scrambled eggs, this recipe is perfect if you’ve stumbled upon a little cluster of wild garlic and have just managed to grab a handful of leaves, as you only need a little to go a long way.
8oz / 250g self raising flour
2oz / 50g butter
1oz / 25g strong cheddar, grated
A small bunch of wild garlic, chopped
1 egg, beaten
4 fl oz / 100ml milk
First rub the butter into the flour until you get coarse crumbs, then mix in the cheese and the chopped garlic leaves. Mix the egg and milk together separately and then add to the butter and flour mixture. Knead it all together with your fingertips until you have a soft dough. Leave a little of the milk and egg for glazing. Roll out the dough to about 2cm high and it out into circles and place on a greased baking tray into an oven 220C for 7-10 minutes. You don’t need me to tell you these are best enjoyed warm! These will keep a few months in the freezer or up to a week in an airtight container.
Methods of preserving wild garlic
This is something I think is really important. You might, like me, get over excited and pick a whole bag’s worth of garlic and then realise you only need to use a little at a time for some recipes. So, the next logical step is to preserve it some way. Here are a few of the best ways of keeping it for future use:
Wild garlic salted butter
This is an excellent way of preserving these leafy greens and means that you’ll always have it on hand to flavour your dishes, stir fry your veg in or pop on top of a jacket potato.
Sprinkling of sea salt
Handful of wild garlic leaves
Cream a sprinkling of salt into the butter (to taste) and then mix in the chopped wild garlic leaves. You can pop this in the fridge to use or, to keep it even longer, roll the butter into a log shape and then freeze. You can cut circles off to use when needed then e.g. for a risotto. It’s that easy. If you want to make this vegan, you can use coconut oil in a similar way. This recipe is super helpful.
Wild garlic pesto
There are loads of different recipes out there for wild garlic pesto, and it how you tackle this really boils down to personal preference. If you hate pine nuts, use cashews or almonds instead. If you like it really garlicky, blend it to a smoother paste. Add in some basil or coriander if you wish. This is a very basic recipe that you may adapt a will.
100g wild garlic leaves
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
Literally this is just a question of blitzing everything together. Leave the cheese out to make it vegan, and you can add in basil leaves or some coriander for another dimension. Make sure that when you store this, in sterilised jars, that there’s a layer of oil over the paste to preserve it. This will keep for one to two weeks in the fridge, or you can freeze it.
Dried wild garlic
This is a great way of preserving any leftover leaves. If you’ve gone a bit mad and have bags of the stuff, trying drying it to make a cupboard staple. It will lose some of its beneficial health properties best through drying (wild garlic is always best used when fresh), but is still super awesome for cooking with.
Wash the leaves thoroughly under cold water and then drain. Blanch the leaves with boiling water to kill any bugs and then arrange the leaves on trays to dry slowly in an oven. This might be a Sunday afternoon task, as it’ll take about 4 hours 50C. Once dry grind or blend the leaves and transfer to sterilised containers.
As with all foraging, take care to understand the plant you’re looking for and don’t mistake it for another. Wild garlic can look similar to Lily of the Valley, so double-double check before picking and eating. Take care when you preserve too. Don’t eat anything that smells bad. If it smells bad, it’s probably off! Use your common sense and do your research.
Discover many more recipes this way:
More wild garlic recipes can be found here
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