I grew up in Devon, with a Dad keen to forage as much as possible. When I moved to London I really missed being able to find little gems in local woods, or in the 'field up the road'. Then I discovered that as long as you knew what to look out for, you can find wild garlic all over the city come March/April. You don't have to be living in a rural area to make the most of Mother Nature. Here are my tips and tricks for foraging wild garlic, plus an easy pesto recipe to whip up for dinner.
Firstly, the number one thing to remember when foraging is that you are taking something from the local habitat. Wild garlic grows vigorously, so it's generally acceptable to pick in small quantities. However, just remember that lots of wildlife lives amongst it, so be careful to only take what you need. Always forage responsibly.
Wild garlic likes to grow in 'woodland' areas, though in cities this can also mean in nature reserves or parks that have a lot of trees to encourage a moist growing environment. Gillespie Park nature reserve, for example, is carpeted in wild garlic through spring and only a short walk from Finsbury Park tube station.
It's pretty easy to know when you've hit the jackpot, as you can smell wild garlic from a mile away. Still, it's important to remember that it can be confused with Lily of the Valley, which doesn't smell like garlic, but has similar green leaves and little white flowers (it's also very poisonous). There are a lot of great diagrams online that illustrate the differences between the two, such as Lily of the Valley flowers being bell shaped and having multiple leaves sprouting from a single stalk. ALWAYS do your research before foraging and make sure you're confident that what you're picking is correct.
Take a cotton tote bag, or whicker basket out with you to put your wild garlic in. Use scissors to cut the leaves close to the ground, and resist the temptation to rip them up. You don't want to remove the plant completely, otherwise it will never be able to grow again next year. The pretty white flowers on wild garlic are also just as delicious as the leaves, so take some too and sprinkle on a salad!
Brush off any soil, and wash in cold water before preparing. You can also pat them dry with a tea towel, though it's not the end of the world if they're still a bit wet before cooking.
Wild Garlic Pesto
3 generous handfuls of wild garlic
1 lemon, juice and zest
Preheat your oven to 180C (fan), spread out your almonds on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Check on them regularly to prevent burning. You can use almonds in their skin or blanched, depending on your own preference
Blitz the almonds, parmesan, wild garlic, lemon juice/zest and a pinch of sea salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender in a bowl).
You should now have a bright green paste. Transfer to a bowl, and slowly mix in olive oil until you have your desired consistency.
Taste, and add more salt if required.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge, with a drizzle of olive oil on top (this helps keep it fresh for longer) - enjoy on toasted sourdough, with burrata or simply tossed through fresh pasta.
Pair with zippy, citrus driven white wines and plenty of spring sunshine. See below for my favourite picks!