Wild About Garlic
Wild garlic has been one of my recent discoveries. Now one of my highlights of spring is the appearance of this amazing plant in our local woodland. Not only does it look stunning during its short flowering period, it is also a delicious food and has properties which make it beneficial to health.
Ramsons - Bear's garlic - Allium ursinum - wild garlic - has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. The old English proverb says:
Eat leeks in Lide [March] and ramsons in May
And all the year after the physicians may play.
It still has wide-spread distribution and popularity as an edible and medicinal plant. The distinct garlic-like scent is associated with the presence of sulphur-containing compounds which are the most characteristic constituents in Allium plants.
All parts of the plant are edible and it can be found in woodland, from March to May, depending on seasonal weather and location.
In European traditional medicine wild garlic has been generally recommended as a digestive stimulant, antimicrobial agent, for removing toxins from the body, and to prevent cardiovascular diseases.
It was also traditionally applied as a remedy in respiratory problems, such as common cold with fever or bronchitis. It has also been effective when used externally to support wound healing, in chronic skin disorders, and for acne.
Modern pharmacological studies have confirmed many of the above mentioned traditional benefits of ramsons. For example, several in vitro and in vivo studies showed that Allium ursinum is a plant with high potential for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular system diseases.
A. ursinum has been valued in traditional medicine as an antimicrobial agent used either internally or externally. There are several studies in which the antimicrobial activity of various extracts prepared from different plant parts were tested in vitro against a wide array of bacterial and fungal strains. Wild garlic extracts have shown to inhibit growth of a broad range of microbes, including some pathogenic (disease causing) species of both bacteria and fungi.
In recent years, it has become more popular as a seasonal ingredient. Fresh leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and made into a pesto. They are often added to soups, gnocchi, risotto, ravioli, and as a spice to flavour hard cheeses or spreads based on soft cheeses. Leaves and flowers can be used as a garnish in salads, while the bulbs can be used like common garlic.
I try out a variety of recipes during wild garlic season. One of my favourite wild garlic recipes this year is cookery author Anna Jones' recipe Wild Garlic Polpette with Spaghetti and Pesto.
It is easy to make and really packs a punch when it comes to flavour.
100g wild garlic
100g puy or other green lentils, cooked
1 free range egg
50g oats or wholemeal breadcrumbs
50g cheese, Parmesan-type
Zest of 1 lemon
300g spaghetti wholemeal spaghetti
1 handful pine nuts
3 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 bunch wild garlic, small
350g cherry tomatoes
1. Preheat oven to 200C, gas 6. Fill and boil a kettle and get all ingredients together.
2. Wash the spinach with wild garlic and remove any tough stalks. Place a large frying pan on high heat and add the spinach and wild garlic, dry-fry until wilted and water has evaporated.
3. Drain the lentils well if using tinned, put into a blender and blitz until mushy. Add the egg, nutmeg, breadcrumbs or oats, hard cheese, lemon zest and some salt and pepper. Blitz until combined then remove from the food processor and fold in the spinach and wild garlic.
4. Divide the mixture into four. From each quarter make 8 balls (Polpette). Place on a baking tray and put into the oven for 15-20 minutes, until crisp and golden.
5. To make the sauce, put the pine nuts and olive oil in a food processor. Blitz to a coarse texture then add the lemon zest and juice, remaining wild garlic leaves and cherry tomatoes. Blitz again until you have a rough pesto, season well with salt and pepper.
6. When the polpette have had 10 minutes, fill a large pan with boiling water, when at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the packet instruction (usually about 8 minutes).
7. Once the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving some of the cooking water. Add the pesto and mix well, add a little of the reserved water to loosen if needed. Distribute the pasta between serving bowls and top with polpette and a little more cheese.
If you have any wild garlic growing near to you, make the most of it and you could, like me, get hooked on this amazing wild food!
Do not dig up Wild Garlic bulbs. Unless you have landowner's consent it is illegal and the bulbs are disappointingly small.Before eating any wild plants, be absolutely certain you have identified them correctly. A good website for further information is;
Reference: llium ursinum: Botanical, Phytochemical and Pharmacological Overview
Sololewska, D. et al., Phytochem. Rev. 2015.