Wild garlic is in bloom from April until June, so get into the trees and find this precious herb to make delicious garlic pesto.

This article was originally published in print in the Spring 2022 issue of Optimum Nutrition.

You are unlikely to find wild garlic in the shops, but you may find it in shady areas within nature’s store.

For keen foragers such as Belinda Blake, who is also a registered nutritional therapy practitioner, this white-flowered herb is something of a precious find.

“The season for these delicious leaves is short and needs to be celebrated,” says Blake. However, knowing what to look for is essential.

Whilst wild garlic can be found using sight and smell, venturing out with an expert or using a foraging guidebook or app is recommended, especially if you are new to foraging.

“The green elliptical leaves are soft to touch and provide a velvety carpet under the trees in spring,” says Blake.

“Heads of white star-shaped flowers aid identification, plus are a delicious treat on their own.” Wild garlic, Blake explains, grows in shady woodland and along riverbanks.

“You can often smell the plants before you see them!” she says. However, although the fragrance is a strong means of identification, Blake cautions that once you have picked a few leaves and the smell is on your hands — “and in your nose!” — it can be more difficult to be certain that you are picking the right thing.

“Lily of the Valley, another shade-loving plant, has a similar leaf shape but is toxic, so care must be taken to ensure that you really are picking the right thing,” she says. The difference between wild garlic and the garlic bulbs we buy in the shops is in how they are used.

“We are used to chopping or crushing the garlic cloves into our cooking, however it is mainly the leaves of wild garlic, or ramsons, that are used — but the fragrance and flavour are very familiar.”

Blake recommends using wild garlic in a type of pesto: “My favourite spring treat is to make a fresh pesto using wild garlic leaves. These pound down easily into a fragrant paste and can be used to dress pasta and flavour fish, chicken, or roasted vegetables.

“Raw leaves can be added to salads or baking, infused in oil, wilted and eaten like spinach, or dehydrated into garlicky crisps.

“The flower buds are also delicious pickled. If you are lucky enough to find a large harvest, I highly recommend making a batch of wild garlic butter which you can freeze in portions to help extend the season.”

Blake adds that when it comes to nutrition, wild garlic — as a member of the allium family — carries much of the same nutritional benefits as cultivated garlic, leeks and onions.

“However, growing wild on undisturbed, nutrient-rich soil may even make this a more nourishing option,” she says. “Rich in sulphur compounds and polyphenols, wild garlic has been traditionally used to support cardiovascular health by helping to reduce inflammation and inhibiting platelet aggregation.

“Its natural antimicrobial effect has been long used by herbalists to provide support in times of coughs, colds and flu, and makes a delicious tonic infused into an ‘oxymel’ of raw honey and apple cider vinegar.”

Serving suggestions:

  • Pound or blitz into a pesto or paste
  • Add raw to salads
  • Infuse with olive oil
  • Steam and wilt, serve like spinach
  • Dehydrate into garlicky crisps
  • Blend into butter and freeze in portions

It is important to seek the landowner’s permission when foraging. For further information on foraging, visit the Woodland Trust’s guidelines. To contact Belinda Blake, visit her website or Instagram account.

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