Archive for the ‘Wild Garlic’ Category

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. 


Spot the difference

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.


Young Wild Garlic

The leaves of wild garlic are convex, broadly lanceolate and glabrous (smooth and hairless) and have one main central vein with parallel secondary veins.


Wild garlic – left, Lords and Ladies, – right

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.


Lords and Ladies emerging


Lords and Ladies

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.


Characteristic purple spots

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.


Wild Garlic, Dog’s Mercery and Lords and Ladies

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.


Wild Garlic cashew nut cheese

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

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From top left clockwise: Nettle, hawthorn blossom, cleavers, ground elder, ground ivy, garlic mustard/jack by the hedge, dandelion flowers, hawthorn leaves, dandelion leaves.

One of the things I love most about spring is that it is probably the time when picking plentiful quantities of wild food is the easiest, at least in temperate northern zones such as the area in which I live. There are many edible wild spring greens in the hedgerows, woods and waysides and in no time at all you can have an abundant harvest for creating delicious and healthful meals and teas.


A mix of wild and cultivated salad leaves decorated with primrose, three cornered leek and heartsease flowers.

Eating even small quantities of wild foods regularly is one of the best things you can do for your health as they are so nutritionally dense, vibrant, seasonal and fresh. So many of the best wild foods are those we consider weeds, but when we look at the qualities of these plants, how tenacious and insuppressible they are, we can see that their strength and vitality surely makes for a more fortifying meal than those cultivated plants that have been shipped half way round the world and sat on supermarket shelves for days. I think weed is a derogatory term, the four letter word of the plant world, which I will henceforth refer to as w**d. I do however reserve the right to use it, along with other four letter words, in the presence of my arch-nemesis ground elder.


Young lime/ linden leaves

At this time of year we have a lovely mix of mild tasting moistening greens, like the young lime/linden and violet leaves, and more drying or pungent herbs like nettles, young yarrow leaves, jack-by-the hedge and the dead nettles. This makes for a perfect balance of nourishing and toning qualities to help build us up and get us into shape after winter.


My little forager picking lime leaves.

The three cornered leek or wild onion is one of the most delicious additions to spring salads, tasting something like a spring onion, and the flowers make beautiful decorative additions to any meal and are also edible. They are more common in the south west than the south east and I don’t find many growing near me but luckily it has spread all over my parent’s garden so I got to pick lots when visiting recently.


Three cornered leek



From a distance it looks a little like white bluebells or even snowdrops but can be easily differentiated close up by the shape of the flowers and the distinctive triangular stem, hence the common name of three cornered leek. Also the smell of onion is a give away. Do be sure of your identification as both snowdrop and bluebell bulbs are poisonous.


Wavy bittercress is a very common spring salad green which has delicious leaves and flowers and tastes much like normal cress.


Wavy bittercress

Lady’s smock, also known as cuckoo flower, is another edible mustard family plant with deliciously peppery leaves and flowers.


Lady’s smock

Jack by the hedge or garlic mustard is also in the mustard family or Brassicaceae. This family used to be known as the Cruciferae so if you have an older plant identification book you will find this name instead.

Jack by the hedge

Jack by the hedge

Nettles are found in abundance at this time of year and are a true superfood for the blood. You can read more about them in a previous post here.


Nettles in the spring sunshine

Pick cleavers by the handful for use in cold infusions and juices, instructions for which can be found here.


A tangle of cleavers

Wild garlic is one of the true delicacies of the season. If, like me, you love the fiery garlic taste then make it into a pesto by itself but if it is a bit too intense for your palette you can tone it down with nettles or shop bought herbs like basil. More about wild garlic can be found here.


Wild garlic pesto – pungent and powerful!

Do remember when picking wild greens to be absolutely 100% sure of your identification as some edibles have poisonous lookalikes. Also avoid the sides of paths where dogs are commonly walked and always, always pick with respect to the environment and don’t over harvest. Finally avoid the edges of fields unless you know the land to be organically managed.


At the back; cleavers cold infusion and hawthorn blossom tea. Centre; nettle pesto with jack by the hedge and ground elder. Front; wild green salad of hawthorn leaves, jack by the hedge, dandelion leaves, violet leaves and white dead nettle with nettle pesto and dandelion flowers on toast, nettle and ground elder soup.

Spring greens and flowers also make for wonderful teas.

Ground ivy has a pleasant but musky flavour which is nice in teas when mixed with something lighter like a little mint from the garden. It is great for stuffy sinuses that can go along with spring allergies.

Ground ivy

Ground ivy

And the most wonderful spring tea of all in my opinion is hawthorn blossom, the very Queen of May herself. Read more about hawthorn blossom here.

Hawthorn blossom

Hawthorn blossom

I have also written a post on harvesting spring greens in this issue of the Mother magazine.

Wishing you all a joyous Beltane and a marvellous May Day!


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This time of year is wonderful for enjoying an array of wild foods and medicines. In March we had the first harvests of the nettles, cleavers, chickweed and violet leaves, all of which are full of minerals and cleansing to our bodies after the stagnancy of winter. Though this year has seen an exceptionally cold, wet April following on the heels of an exceptionally warm March,  it is not uncommon for April to be a chilly and rainy month in this part of the world, associated as it is with showers and late frosts. So it is just at the right time that we have a lovely array of pungent herbs available to us for blasting away some of the damp and the chill.

A carpet of wild garlic

Sour is considered the flavour of spring in Traditional Chinese medicine even though many sour foods are fruits and berries that don’t arrive until the late summer and autumn. Many of our spring greens do have some sourness to them however, most obviously the sorrels which have a deliciously tart lemony flavour. The salty flavour is also common in springtime with many mineral rich herbs like nettle and cleavers being considered to have a salty taste.

Pungent herbs are those that taste aromatic, spicy or acrid. Many of our favourite culinary herbs are pungent like oregano, rosemary and sage and all the kitchen spices like ginger, coriander, cumin or cayenne. Pungent herbs help to stoke the digestive fires and are stimulating, warming, drying and dispersing. They produce sweating so can help to release a fever and improve the circulation. They dry and dispel mucus helping to relieve cold, damp conditions as well as relieve bloating, gas and nausea. Too much of the pungent taste however can damage sensitive mucus membranes and easily overheat people who are already of a hot constitution.

Jack-by-the-hedge (or garlic mustard)

There is an array of pungent herbs available to us in spring which will help to thin mucus and get our circulation moving as well as helping to dispel the stodginess of our winter bodies. These include ground ivy, garlic mustard and ramsons or wild garlic.

These herbs have their differences but what they all share is an affinity for warming the digestion, expelling mucus, aiding the lungs and cleansing the blood. Ground Ivy (which you can read more about in this post) is wonderful for stuck catarrh and congestion and can be used in tincture or tea for getting things moving. Garlic mustard and wild garlic make delicious and nutritious additions to salads. soups, stews and pestos and are lovely infused into apple cider vinegar then sprinkled liberally on foods.

Ground Ivy

Close up

I have been adding a little pungent and a little sour to our nettle soups with a generous portion of chopped fresh garlic mustard and a few sorrel leaves to incorporate all those lovely spring flavours.

Just the thing for spicing up these grey old days!

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Spring is getting into full swing here in the South East and the time for indulging in copious bowls of nettle soup is upon us once more. Each year I end up with a new favourite variation on this time honoured classic of wild food cuisine and this year I’ve managed the impossible. I’ve come up with a recipe that my husband not only tolerates, but actually enjoys too.

Creamy Nettle and Broccoli Soup with Wild Garlic Oil:

1 colander full of freshly picked and washed nettle tops
1 head broccoli
1 tin of cannellini beans
1 large onion or 3 shallots
3 cloves of garlic
Tablespoon olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice
stock and seasoning to taste
Wild garlic oil (and leaves if available) to garnish

This is such a quick and simple soup but the texture and flavours make it feel both nourishing and fulfilling. Begin by lightly frying the onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened but not brown. Add the stock, cannellini beans (pre-cooked) and broccoli to the pan and cook until broccoli is tender. Add the nettle tops and a squeeze of lemon and cook for a few minutes until the nettles are wilted and soft. Add seasoning to taste and blend to a thick and creamy consistency. Garnish with a drizzle of wild garlic oil and, if available, some freshly chopped wild garlic leaves and violet flowers.

To make the wild garlic oil you simply lightly pack your blender with freshly picked wild garlic leaves and add somewhere in the region of 250ml virgin olive oil. Blend until you have an almost smooth vibrant green oil. This will last a couple of weeks in the fridge and can be added to soups, salad dressings or smeared on crackers. I always add it at the end though as wild garlic looses much of its flavour when cooked.

You can read my last year’s nettle soup recipes here and my recipe for wild garlic pesto here.

I hope  those of you in the Northern hemisphere are enjoying your spring bounties too.

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Eat leeks in March and ramsins in May
And all the year after physicians may play.
C.N. French A Countryman’s Day Book (1929) – Quoted by Gabrielle Hatfield

Ramsons – A Woodland Treasure

Ramsons, otherwise known as wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is one of my very favourite things to forage. Unlike a few other things which grace my plate at this time of year, I didn’t start eating them just because they were good for me, but because they are so unbelievably yummy! As luck would have it, they also happen to be an exceptional food for promoting health and wellbeing. As part of the same family as onion and garlic, they exhibit many of the same antibacterial properties, being useful to ward off infection and traditionally used to treat wounds in Scotland. As with normal garlic, Ramsons is a pungent remedy that aids the heart and circulatory system. It can help balance cholesterol and is therefore of use in preventing arteriosclerosis and boosting the memory. Maria Treben recommends it for “heart complaints and sleeplessness arising from stomach trouble and those complaints caused by arteriosclerosis or high blood pressure, as well as dizziness, pressure in the head and anxiety.” I would also recommend it for low blood pressure as its gift lies in its ability to equalise the circulation.

My father-in-law bringing in the harvest

As a blood cleanser, wild garlic is a wonderful addition to the spring diet and is of particular use in chronic skin conditions due to its alterative properties. It’s also a specific remedy for problems of the gastro-intestinal tract, and may be helpful for a range of conditions from IBS to colitis to expelling parasites. It is particularly useful for stagnant digestion, bloating and gas due to its ability to balance the gut flora and discourage ‘unfriendly’ bacteria. Being heating however it is more suited to those with a cold or damp constitution.

Many people recommend adding ramsons to soups, bakes, stews etc, but I find it loses its flavour very quickly when cooked so I prefer to eat it raw, sliced thinly in salads, as a garnish or as a delicious pesto. To make ramsons pesto blend a couple of large handfuls of leaves with a 1/4 cup olive oil and a small handful of pine nuts or cashews. Its pretty potent and intensely garlicy so I don’t recommend it before a first date! Mix it 50/50 with basil or parsley to tone it down a bit or with other wild foods such as chickweed. It’s so vital and green you’ll feel healthier just looking at it!

Wild Garlic Pesto

You can find it growing in damp, shady woodlands and hedgerows or by streams, throughout the spring. It produces beautiful delicate white flowers a little later in the season which can also be eaten. Be careful not to confuse its long green leaves with those of Lilly of the Valley, which is poisonous – you can easily tell the difference however because of the intense garlic aroma which belongs to Ramsons.

The Swiss herbalist Abbe Kuenzle, heaps praise upon this woodland wonder. According to Treben, he writes, “It cleanses the whole body, rids it of stubborn waste matters, produces healthy blood and destroys and removes poisonous substances. Continually sickly people, as those with herpes and eczema, pale looks, scrofula and rheumatism should venerate Ramsons like gold. No herb on this earth is as effective for cleansing the stomach, intestines and blood. Young people would burst into bloom like the roses on a trellis and sprout like fircones in the sun.”

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