When I was a little girl, as I crossed the stepping stones by my house, one smell solidified spring's emergence in my mind. In later years I learnt that the source of this smell goes by many names, including ramsons, bear's garlic and buckrants. But it is most commonly known as wild garlic. Growing between 45 – 50 cm, it is generally found in the oldest woodland by running water.
Shoots of delicate white flowers swiftly follow its beautiful broad green foliage, and the best thing is that it is entirely edible! Best picked between March and June, you can use the bulbs like regular garlic and the leaves as an aromatic tease within most savoury dishes; even the flowers add a uniquely earthy edge to salads.
As well as being a familiar favourite in our kitchen for culinary purposes, this magical plant also holds many natural properties. It can purify the blood and act as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic or anti-oxidant.
It can also help lower cholesterol, helping to prevent heart disease and strokes. I've even been known to boil the leaves to make a natural disinfectant for my home.
It may seem simple, but NEVER pick or taste a plant that you are not 100% sure is safe. Wild garlic can often be confused with Lily of the Valley, which is very poisonous. Consult with an expert if possible.
Also, ensure that you seek permission from the landowner before removing any plants. Don't remove too much so as not to damage the environment or take it away from the wildlife, who need it more than we do.
For the past ten years, my go-to Easter meal has been a leg of lamb wrapped in wild garlic leaves. I've even been known to make wild garlic pancakes for pancake day, complete with a serving of ricotta cheese and poached eggs.
But you can use wild garlic in almost any savoury dish. For many months I added a handful of leaves to pasta, salads and stews, just as you would with spinach. And yes, you did read correctly; I did say “months”.
Just wash, dry and place in the freezer to have a supply of this fantastic herb months after it's past its best. As it has a milder taste than traditional garlic, the best way to preserve the colour and flavour when cooking is to add it right at the end.
Here are a couple of my favourite wild garlic recipes:
- 30g Walnuts or Toasted Pine Nuts
- 150g Wild Garlic
- 200g Olive Oil
- 20g Parmesan
- A pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Blanch the garlic in boiling water for about a minute and place it into a bowl of iced water. Blend with all the other ingredients. I love this on pizza, with pâté, or as an accompaniment to roast lamb or fish.
Wild Garlic Pancakes
- 600ml milk
- 3 eggs, plus 1 for poaching
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 165 g plain flour
- 45 g butter for frying
- 1 litre loosely packed wild garlic or stinging nettles
- Ricotta cheese, ham or smoked haddock
Make a pancake batter by sifting the flour and salt together in a bowl. Make a well, and then stir in the eggs.
Blanch the wild garlic for about 30 seconds in boiling water, then quickly transfer to iced water. Drain and then blend.
Slowly whisk the wild garlic and milk into the pancake batter until it is the thickness of single to double cream. Let the batter rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before frying.
These pancakes are fantastic with smoked haddock and a poached egg. Stinging nettles or spinach can be used instead of wild garlic, but why not make the most of the foraging season.