Springtime in Dublin. The days lengthening. The daffodils blooming. The air warming. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Make that three out of four: wild garlic sprouting. Take a stroll through one of the more wild parks in Dublin in March and early April and you’re likely to smell the distinctive scent of garlic. Allium ursinum, or “bear’s garlic,” grows in deciduous woodlands and prefers slightly acidic, moist soils. Where it grows, it grows in abundance, carpeting the area with its broad, glossy leaves and delicate white blossoms. After a dull, cold winter wild garlic is one of the first edible, green plants to sprout and is a wonderful harbinger of spring.
The entire plant is edible. The bulbs can be used like normal garlic, but unless you own the land on which it grows it is illegal to uproot wild garlic (or any wild plant). Uprooting it also prevents it from returning the next year. Clip just the leaves and blossoms low to the ground but not too many in a given area. In other words, be respectful of the plants and other foragers. Also, avoid harvesting near paths to avoid plants tainted by dog urine.
The leaves can be used raw in salads, baked into scones and breads, sautéed in butter or whizzed into a pesto. The blossoms are a beautiful garnish for soups.
There are several ways to preserve a large harvest of leaves.
- A pesto can be frozen for several months.
- Pack a sterilised jar with cleaned leaves and submerge in olive or rapeseed oil (this is best stored in the refrigerator as there is a slight risk of botulism poisoning if stored at room temperature).
- Fill an ice cube tray with chopped leaves and oil, freeze, pop out the cubes and store in plastic bags or other containers. The frozen oil cubes can be added directly to a saute pan or pot of soup.
- Dry the leaves in a food dehydrator or very low oven (70 C) until brittle. Store in airtight containers.
A few poisonous plants can be mistaken for wild garlic, notably Lily of the Valley. However, no other plant that looks even remotely like wild garlic smells like wild garlic, so use your nose. If it doesn’t smell like garlic, don’t pick it. Also, the leaves of Lily of the Valley extend from a common stem while the leaves of wild garlic are on separate stems. Once you’re familiar with it you’ll never mistake it for anything else.
Take a stroll through a Dublin park this spring (St. Anne’s Park and Phoenix Park are good choices), follow your nose to a patch of wild garlic and get foraging. It’s a tasty way to usher in spring!