Wholefood chef Rozanne Stevens shows you how to grow your own, and explains why you should be adding it to your dishes.

All over Ireland delicate, white flowers on long, grass-like stems are blooming in forests, verges and gardens. Very much like a white bluebell, the true nature of this pretty flower is only revealed when you get closer and get a pungent, garlicky whiff. Yes, it is wild garlic time.

I look forward to spotting the first wild garlic each year. It’s a sign that spring is finally here and we get to briefly enjoy all the seasonal delights. For me it really epitomises springtime in Ireland. I really do like the idea of only being able to enjoy a food for a very limited time, and not being able to buy it in shops. You feel much more in touch with nature and the cycle of the seasons.

I first tasted the famous Brooklodge Wild Garlic Pesto at a brunch six years ago. I fell in love with the pungent, garlicky flavour and rich, green glossiness. So when I was researching wild garlic, Evan Doyle from Brooklodge was my first port of call.

Little did I realise that the making of this now famous pesto dates back 22 years and involves a group of industrious harvesters, secret crops and a closely guarded recipe. In April/May each year The Crew go out to harvest the lush green blanket of wild garlic, tucked away in secret vales in Macreddin, Co Wicklow. This harvest is then magically turned into the glorious, green wild garlic pesto. Those in the know even put their names down on a waiting list for this much anticipated culinary delight.

Types of Wild Garlic
There are dozens of similar plants called ‘wild garlic’ that are grown across the world. The one we see here most commonly grows in damp woodland as a floor covering, which creates a fantastic spectacle of white blooms. The broad leafed cousin, or ransom, is more of a hedge dweller and you will see its delicate blooming beauty lining the roads of Ireland in late spring.

Growing Wild Garlic in Your Garden
Wild garlic has populated many gardens and can take over if not mowed to tame it. If you would like a crop for next spring, simply plant a few of the bulbs in a semi-shady area, water well and you will be rewarded next year. Be sure to pick your parent bulbs from a verge or hedge and not a protected forest or nature reserve.

Picking Wild Garlic
Wild garlic is currently growing everywhere; it is prolific. When picking your wild garlic, be sure to only pick healthy, undamaged specimens and give them a good wash before using. A good pair of kitchen scissors used to snip the garlic off at the base are the best. Ideally you would harvest garlic away from traffic and pollution for cleaner plants. Check that it is wild garlic by using the smell test: it is unmistakable. Or consult a flora and fauna field guide of Ireland that will have pictures and descriptions. Foraging for your wild garlic is great fun and you can rope the whole family in.

Nutritional Value
While not as medicinally potent as the bulb garlic we know, wild garlic still has many health benefits. One of the most notable is its high levels of folic acid, an essential B vitamin, and its positive benefits on the digestive system. Wild garlic acts as a prebiotic, encouraging the growth of friendly bacteria. This is vital if you suffer from diabetes, have been on a course of antibiotics or have a weakened immune system. Wild garlic also has mild antibacterial properties to ward off spring coughs and sniffles.

What Parts of the Plant to Use
The whole of the plant is edible and will add something special to your spring dinner table. The flowers are gorgeous to look at and to eat and make a wonderful addition to salads and as a garnish on savoury dishes. They have a mild, garlicky flavour which is deceptive as you’re expecting to taste something sweet. The long, grass-like leaves can be snipped into salads and savoury dishes as you would use chives. Or more commonly, they are blitzed up as a pesto or sauce to use as a condiment in a wide variety of recipes. Traditionally, wild garlic would be made into a highly nutritious soup. The bulbs can be sautéed up like shallots, or leave them in the ground for next year’s crop.

Useful Contacts
Wild Garlic Blog: www.brooklodge.com
Recipes: 'Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and Me' by Denis Cotter, published by Collins

Rozanne Stevens

For more on Rozanne Stevens and her work as a wholefood chef, visit: www.rozannestevens.com.

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