I have been led to believe that a good wild garlic woodland is hard to come by these days. Also known as ‘ramsons’ or ‘bear leek’, the proper name is Allium ursinum. I’ve only recently started learning the very basics about flowers – so if you didn’t know ‘alliums’ have that wonderful and unmistakeable globe-shaped flowers on the end of the stalk. Apparently ‘bear leek’ stems from the fact that certain characters from the wild (namely bears and boars) love this stuff, and will scrabble them up to eat. And with good reason!
Wild garlic is also an ‘Ancient Woodland Indicator’ – that means that a woodland that has existed continuously since before the 1600s. Old and rare species of plants love these shady havens of unblemished and nourishing soil. And curious and eccentric humans love exploring such places!
I was lucky to discover one such woodland in this north corner of the Cotswolds, and I wandered up to the hill on a sunny evening to try and catch the last bit of sunlight recently. The what can only be described as a sea of garlic is actually breathtaking, and my quick pictures before the light went and my camera battery died don’t do justice to it… this is a sight that is worth seeing in your lifetime. And the smell is unmistakeable.
A quick note about foraging for wild garlic – make sure you know exactly what to look for before you go, even though the smell makes it pretty easy to tell! The most similar looking poisonous plant is Lily of the Valley, but I also noticed that the also poisonous Dog’s Mercury grows enthusiastically amongst it (but they do look very different – avoid their jagged leaves!).
I have shared a wild garlic pesto recipe before, however despite the cheap availability of garlic in the countryside, the other ingredients tend to be very expensive – olive oil, parmesan (££), and pine nuts (£££!). This is my cheaper version!
Wild Garlic Pesto
- 140g wild garlic leaves
- 100g sunflower seeds (about an eighth of the price of pine nuts)
- 100g extra mature cheddar (I bought some on half price – buy whatever strong hard cheese is on offer!)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- About 200ml olive oil (can’t get around this one – but I used up some extra virgin oil that no one likes from the store cupboard)
- Salt & pepper
Basically you just blend all of these things together! I use a stick blender, so you can add in the oil gradually to make it easier. You could also leave out some of the nuts and sprinkle them in at the end, so that it has more texture.
I’ve been making huge batches of this in preparation for my foraging workshop next month! I also love the fact that it looks like swamp slime. In the third picture above, I stirred some of the pesto into breadcrumbs and spring onions, and used it as a topping for dinner, but you can just as easily use the pesto straight away for a pasta sauce, on a puff pastry tart, or if you’re feeling really motivated, have cheesy leek stuffed potato skins lined first with pesto. I can’t think of anything tastier :).