Spring is finally in full swing here in Sussex. The sun is shining, March winds are blowing out the winter grey and lots of wonderful young edibles are popping up in the meadows and hedgerows.
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is one of the most delectable of these and also one of the most easily recognisable as well as being abundant in damp and shady places such as woodlands and stream edges.
A warning that is often given alongside foraging information on wild garlic is to be wary of its similarities to the leaves of Lords and Ladies or Cuckoo Pint (Arum maculatum) which often grows amongst it. The leaves can be easily camouflaged but, on closer examination, actually look quite different so getting to know the characteristics of these two plants is important for wild harvesting.
I suspect the majority of problems arise from people picking handfuls of young leaves without too much attention to detail so it’s always good to harvest a little more mindfully and respectfully to avoid getting any unwanted hitchhikers in your basket.
The leaves of wild garlic are convex, broadly lanceolate and glabrous (smooth and hairless) and have one main central vein with parallel secondary veins.
Lords and Ladies on the other hand has a broad arrow shaped leaf, with a more wrinkled appearance. However the mature leaf shape may not be fully present in the youngest leaves so the most important thing to notice is the difference in patterning of the veins. In Lords and Ladies they are pinnate, meaning the secondary veins are paired oppositely, emerging out to the edge of the leaf from the central vein. On close inspection they look quite different from the parallel veins of wild garlic.
It also often has characteristic purple spots on the leaves though these are not always present, especially in the young leaves, so cannot be relied upon for a positive identification.
Wild garlic can also be confused with the leaves of Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) before they are in flower and the two do in fact look very similar. Lily of the Valley is highly poisonous when eaten, though it is also a valuable medicine when given in the correct dosages. One of the main differences is that Lily of the Valley usually has pairs of leaves on a single stem where as wild garlic only has one. Lily of the Valley is rarer now than it used to be but it is still important to be able to recognise the differences.
The most important id feature of wild garlic is its distinctive smell which neither Lily of the Valley or Lords and Ladies have. If you have any doubts at all, leave aside the plants you are unsure of.
Below we can see wild garlic growing up amongst two poisonous neighbours. Dog mercury with the small green flowers and the larger leaves of Lords and Ladies next to it.
Alongside our usual pestos and infused vinegars I have been enjoying wild garlic cashew nut ‘cheese’ this year which is a lovely creamy treat spread on crackers or used as a sauce on pasta or millet.
Ingredients and Method:
1 cup cashew nuts (soaked in enough water to cover for at least an hour and drained)
A large handful or wild garlic leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water (you can add more to make a thinner sauce consistency)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional but adds a nice cheesy flavour)
Salt and pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until combined and smooth. Store in the fridge and use within a few days.
If you fancy picking some wild garlic with myself and Anna Richardson next month we are holding a spring greens foraging day at Wowo Campsite in East Sussex. Other dates for summer and autumn are also available.
Edible and medicinal spring greens- Saturday 25th April 10.30am – 4.30pm
Women’s Flower Day – Saturday 11th July 10.30am – 4.30pm
Autumn Wild Foods and Medicines – Saturday 19th September 10.30am – 4.30pm
You can find out more and book online here: http://www.wowo.co.uk/faq/30-services/107-anna-richardson-wild-crafts.html