Foraging and Using Wild Garlic in Dorset
Not just the name of Masterchef winner Matt Follas’s former restaurant in Beaminster, wild garlic is a welcome harbinger of spring in the local beechwoods. Just now, its pleated green spear-shaped leaves are pushing through the leafmould to take advantage of the light. There they are, just waiting for the eager forager to pick them while they are juicy and tender; later, the woodland floor will be a carpet of blue- green leaves topped with clusters of starry white firework flowers, which you can also eat.
Locally called ramsons, the plant is plentiful in our deciduous woodlands, and a good source of fresh greenery early in the year, with a flavour between garlic and chives.
So, having picked a bagful of the leaves – what can you do with them once you have picked them over and rinsed them?
- They make a lovely pesto that works well with baked fish or pasta. Chop the leaves coarsely, then process and add ground nuts (as the flavour is strong, pine nuts are wasted, so use something like almonds for example) and grated hard cheese like parmesan or pecorino plus enough olive oil to loosen a bit.
Keep small quantities in the fridge covered with a thin layer of oil, or freeze portions wrapped in greaseproof for a taste of spring later in the year!
- Try stir-frying a couple of handfuls of the leaves in extra-virgin olive oil then adding steamed Cornish greens or kale for a delicious accompaniment to meat dishes, or a simple vegetarian dressing for pasta.
- Scatter the flowers on green salads for a mild garlic zing and lovely appearance.
- Add chopped leaves to a savoury tortilla or omelette, frying them with the other ingredients before you add the egg.
- … and I am sure your imagination will run to other uses (bubble and squeak, risotto, soup …) – or if not, a search on the web will give you plenty of ideas.
A word of warning
In May and June, the flowers are unmistakable, but when you are gathering the young leaves now, be careful not to mix them up with other plants that might be poisonous! The garlic smell should be obvious, but they commonly grow with cuckoo pint (wild arum, lords and ladies) which has broad arrow-shaped leaves often with brown splotches, or very occasionally, garden-escaped lily of the valley or autumn crocus, both of which can be deadly. They often grow with bluebells and daffodils, but the leaves are quite different, so just be careful when you are picking not to pull up armfuls without looking first!
Foraging is legal as long as you are only picking leaves and flowers for your own use – so please don’t upset landowners by being greedy or pulling up plants wholesale!