It seems that we are finally trying to embrace again the nature that surrounds us. What used to be so common only a few decades ago, it got somewhat lost as the globalisation took over and everything became so easily accessible. All of a sudden we have created generations of youngsters (who are not even such youngsters anymore) who are convinced that raspberries can only be found in a shop.
But luckily for us, the drive to start living more in sync with nature once again, is forcing us to go out, to look around us and start appreciating the "wilderness" that can beautifully enrich our diets. You don't have to be an extreme adventurist to forage very common and very easily distinguishable plants. But as with mushrooms, do not eat what you are not familiar with, or even better, maybe take a photo and get it identified first. The plants will still be exactly where you have left them (provided you return within a reasonable time). There will be something growing where you live nearly all the time. What will be in season, of course depends on the area and climate you live in. For example, spring plants will appear much earlier in Central Europe, or even in England than they will in Scotland. If in Scotland we are excitingly picking wild garlic now, and it is almost May, then in Slovenia where the spring is much warmer, the wild garlic is nearing the end of its season.
If we stay with wild garlic. There really is abundance of it all around Europe, and whether it can be mistaken for another, similar plant, it depends again on the area where it grows. The most similar plant is lily of the valley, which is poisonous, so mistakenly picking that instead of wild garlic can have serious consequences. But nothing to fear, all you need is a reasonable measure of caution.
1. Never harvest by pulling the entire bunches of plants. Pick individual leaves and if you need to double check, simply smell each leaf - the smell of garlic is overpowering!
2. If you want to be even more sure, be patient and wait until the plant stars flowering - flowers of lily of the valley and wild garlic are not even remotely similar.
There are so many great recipes you can use wild garlic in.
Idea 1: Use it instead of garlic. Garlic is one of those vegetables that usually travels half of the globe before it reaches our plates. For some reason it is always hard to find one that was grown locally, hence, wild garlic can be even more appreciated.
Idea 2: Make potato and wild garlic soup. Great especially if you are busy, as the soup basically makes itself. Simply quickly shallow fry roughly chopped wild garlic (couple of bunches), add cubed potatoes, salt and pepper, and cover with water. Let it simmer for half an hour, and then just blend it. Of course you can always add a spoon of cream at the end.
Idea 3: Make wild garlic spread. Do you have people coming over and you forgot to buy a dip? Grab a bunch of wild garlic and chop it very finely. Blend it with either quark or cream cheese, add a spoon of sour cream (optional) and a bit of salt and pepper. Works with everything - crudities or crisps or crackers...
Idea 4: You were greedy and you have picked so much you don't know what to do with it. Make wild garlic pesto. It is exactly as if you were making a standard green pesto. You can simply make it with oil and salt only, or you can add different nuts, maybe even a bit of pecorino cheese.
Idea 5: You were greedy again, but now you have cupboards already fully of wild garlic pesto and you also gave it to all of your friends. Maybe try fermenting it. From my experience it works better if you have stalks as well, as they maintain the crunch (and tend to float less, making it easier to control during fermentation phase). Pack the stalks tightly in a clean jar, prepare brine and pour it over the stalks. Close the jar and leave in a dark but not too cold place for couple of weeks. Soon you will be able to enjoy tasty fermented wild garlic (an excellent addition to whatever meal you are having).
Idea 6: You are left with a lot of wild garlic flowers. You have used them for decoration, cooking, but they are so pretty you want to kind of preserve their beauty. Fermentation is the answer, once again. This time you are fermenting with honey (which makes it a little bit expensive). Simply place nice bunch of wild garlic flowers in a clean jar and pour the honey over them. Close the jar and let it ferment for a month or so. These fermented wild garlic flowers work magic with any kind of Asian dishes.
Of course, wild garlic is not the only wild plant we can pick. It is just one of many. There are ground elder, wild leek, nettle, sweet cicely, just to name a few that appear at similar time as wild garlic.
There are many really good books and websites where expert foragers offer courses and regularly share their knowledge. Just some among those, that inspire us in the UK are Wild Food Stories, Edulis Wild Food and Forage Fine Foods. In Slovenia, you can always get more ideas in the book Kosobrinova kuhinja, as well as in Narava vedno zmaga.
Most importantly, don’t complicate. Go out, enjoy the nature, live sustainably.
Happy foraging, and till next time.
PS. Get more fermenting ideas here: Ferment!