Wild garlic is one of the joys of spring. Mellower than garlic, with slightly sweet, herbal undertones, it’s a wonderfully versatile addition to your late spring and early summer recipes. You can eat it raw in salads or in a sandwich, or use it as a substitute for basil in pesto. In cooked recipes, it makes a nice substitute for greens such as you spinach, kale or spring greens. If you pick too much to use fresh, just wash and dry thoroughly, then freeze it for later use.
Its proper name is Allium Ursinum, and depending where you are can be known as ramsons, bear’s garlic (as it’s apparently irresistible to brown bears), wood garlic, or simply wild garlic. It’s part of the onion family, and is closely related to chives. The plants grow in more temperate climates from Britain in the West to the countries of the Caucasus in the East. You can find it from April to June, growing in shady wooded areas.
It has bright green leaves that can grow to about 25cm/10in and has white star-shaped flowers. Be careful when picking it, though, as its leaves are very similar to the poisonous Lily of the Valley. Only pick when you can see the flowers and double-check by crushing a leaf to ensure it has a garlicky scent. If you’re in any doubt, don’t pick them.
Wild plants are a good way to make your diet more interesting. They can bring flavours and textures that you won’t find in products you buy commercially, and may have some health benefits. Some studies suggest that wild garlic is even better than regular garlic in lowering blood pressure, and its leaves and flowers have some antifungal properties.
In some European countries, wild garlic is increasingly being added to commercial products, such as the infused oil currently available at Ikea. As a result, there’s been a renewed interest in wild food plants in general. More and more people want to learn how forage, with workshops springing up in local communities and instructional videos available online. The Woodland Trust has some good foraging guidelines, so if you’re a novice, please read them through before going out to collect wild food.
Recipe – Wild Garlic “Xató” (vegan)
This recipe is based on the Catalan romesco sauce variety Xató, which is a blend of nuts and a variety of peppers called nyoras that is used on salads.
This wild garlic version would be good on a salad, but you can also stir it into pasta or steamed vegetables, or top a baked potato, grilled tofu or seitan steak (and if you’re a meat-eater, a real steak). My friend Jordi used it as a spread on toast, then added fresh tomatoes.
The measurements here are approximate, because it all really depends on what texture, degree of tanginess, etc. you personally like. Use this as a basic guide, then tweak to your own taste. This recipe makes a thick spread, as Xató tends to be much thicker than a sauce, but if you can add more oil if you want to use it as you would pesto.
The following uses 3 cups of wild garlic as that happened to be amount I picked. If you have more or less, adjust the other ingredients accordingly.
3 cups packed wild garlic, leaves and flowers
1/3 cup blanched hazelnuts
1/3 blanched almonds
½ cup olive oil*
3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
Salt to taste
*If your olive oil has a very strong taste, you might want to use a mixture of olive and a neutral tasting oil
Dry fry the nuts in a pan until they are golden and smell toasty. Set aside. Once the nuts are cool, combine with the wild garlic and vinegar in a food processor. While processing, drizzle in the oil until you reach the desired consistency. Add salt to taste.
I used mine on baked Portobello mushrooms. I removed the mushroom stems, stuffed them with the xató, then baked them at 180C/350F for 20 minutes.