In the UK wild garlic appears in early Spring typically in old woodland in damp conditions. We are lucky enough to live within a short walk of a wild garlic glade where it carpets the woodland floor with green leaves from March followed by white flowers in April and May. If you are out looking for it you may well smell it before seeing it. Its oniony aroma is unmistakable.
It doesn’t have the pungency of commercially grown garlic bulbs; I love its more subtle flavour and the fact that you can eat the whole plant. Just pull out the stems, leaves and flowers. The bulbs can also be eaten, though they are smaller than their commercially grown cousins and I like the idea of leaving them in the ground to sprout again next Spring. When in season it’s an abundant crop, so I tend to pick little and often when out on a run or walk without depleting stocks. There’s plenty enough to even adorn my windowsill. Food doesn’t get any more local and sustainable, does it?
For me, it’s a great way to celebrate Spring and gets me feeling close to the natural world just as it erupts into life after the winter.
However, last Spring as I was walking past my local wild garlic patch, I noticed a quarter of the patch was bare. Where it had previously flourished there was none and it got me worried. The following year, I realised that it was not an isolated incident when I read this.
Wild garlic has become a trendy ingredient for British foodies. Visit any fine dining restaurant in spring and you’ll likely see the menu dropping hints of wild garlic all over – wild garlic mash, chilli oil, butter, scones, bread, you name it! Modern restaurants like to showcase the seasonality of their menu and that’s good practice, but driving miles to harvest wild garlic in bulk is neither sustainable nor ethical. The British countryside is scattered with glades of wild garlic and if people harvest only what they need, it’ll be available to everyone for years to come. As I said, a little goes a long way with wild garlic.
This year, I visited my local patch and I was filled with joy to see the over-harvested section had sprung back to life. It’s a sight to be grateful for, especially when the pretty white flowers start to bloom. You end up picking a few flowers as you harvest the leaves. So the last time I went there, I brought the flowers home and popped them in a vase to adorn my windowsill. That corner of my dining room smelt lovely – I really don’t mind the pungent smell of garlic. So for me, it’s all great.
You’ll find a few recipes with wild garlic here and here, neither of which require large quantities of foraged wild garlic.