I have the feeling spring is about to be sprung. Yesterday the birds were certainly in agreement. The air was electric with frenetic chirping and twittering as a gaggle of rooks waddled over our grass collecting nest-shaped twigs. So I wasn’t at all surprised to find tender shoots of Wild Garlic pushing up through the undergrowth. Allium ursinum favours shade and is mostly found growing in wooded areas – it’s pungent smell announcing its presence. Pungent in a subtle garlicy way – not at all unpleasant to my nose. In fact it brings back happy memories. Childhood memories of the 10 mile journey to my granny’s house. There was that certain corner that the family car would take where, under a canopy of mature trees, you always knew your senses would be stirred by the all embracing smell of wild garlic.
Today I picked a handful of Wild Garlic leaves and made a fine pesto with just walnuts, olive oil and a hard sheep’s cheese. Wild Garlic, or Ramsons as it is also called, has the same medicinal pluses as the garlic cloves we commonly use for cooking. It has antioxidant and immune enhancing properties and is a very effective digestive aid. Apparently bears make a bee-line for it when they wake up from hibernation. For that reason the plant is also known as ‘bear’s garlic’.
The whole plant is edible but as the bulbs are so tiny it is the leaves that are usually collected. The leaves are most potent before flowering. They have an earthy quality and can sometimes benefit from a touch of sweetness or a hint of citrus. Some pesto recipes call for a tsp of sugar though I prefer to add honey or lemon juice, depending on the what the pesto is covering, at a later stage. I have placed some rolled up leaves in a bottle of quality extra-virgin olive oil so that in a month or so we will enjoy a lovely garlic infused dipping oil.
There is another wild Allium that graces our hedgerows called the Three-Cornered Leek, Allium triquetrum. It has a less potent smell but is just as tasty. The stems have three sides (or three corners) which makes it distinguishable from the white variety of bluebell which often grows nearby and should never be eaten. The Allium triquetrum’s white, bell-like flowers spruce up a salad and the fried chopped stems make a tasty addition to mashed potato. This particular Allium stays in flower for a longer period than Wild Garlic and doesn’t seem to depend as much on shady conditions. Both are worth seeking out- I’m fairly certain you’ll be wild about them too!