Wild Garlic Appreciation Post
There’s a plant that grows in abundance around creeks and glens in Scotland. It’s low, green and leafy, and could almost be confused for a weed, were it not for the rich smell of garlic that wafts through the foliage and fills the air with the smell of Spring.
Wild garlic is part of the allium family, similar to normal garlic and onions. The leaves start growing as early as February, and continue until they flower in late April. Both the leaves and flowers are edible, although the young leaves are tastiest. It grows in abundance across Britain, especially in moist and forested areas.
I’d never heard of wild garlic. It doesn’t grow in Canada, and that first spring day when I stumbled across it in the forest I thought I must be dreaming. After some time wondering where the smell was coming from, I bent down and rubbed one of the leaves. Sniffing my fingers, I couldn’t believe the pungent spice which seemed to be emanating from this abundant growth.
It’s so beautiful. It covers the forest floor in a lush green, and the thin leaves catch the sunlight shining through. Later in the season, it sprouts delicate white flowers which seem wonderfully exotic. But apart from its looks and its smell, wild garlic also has an exceptional taste.
I always like to have a little taste of wild garlic right where I pick it. The fresh leaves are surprisingly sharp, and I’m always surprised at how potent the leaves can be. And tasting the forest, right there in the forest, is an incredible act of truly experiencing an environment with all five of our senses.
I’ve been experimenting with different things to do with the garlic once I take it home. It’s great chopped up, added to an omelette or pasta sauce. I’ve sprinkled it as a pizza topping, or in a soup. It’s incredible blended into hummus, and I’ve been blending it with olive oil to make a wild garlic pesto. I mixed some of the pesto into my regular challah dough, and then folded more in as I braided it, and the resulting wild garlic challah was quite incredible. My latest venture is fermented wild garlic leaves, although we’ll have to wait a while to see how those turn out.
Trying all these new things is so exciting. It’s incredible to be able to go for a walk into the forest, and return with these leaves, a literal gift from the earth, and then to use that gift in a really functional way. It takes me back to a time when people couldn’t rely on Amazon deliveries, or even grocery stores. We live in a time of such constant plenty, where we can have whatever we want whenever we want it, but we’re so disconnected from the source of it.
The flour in the challah could have come from anywhere, been processed somewhere totally different, and then shipped across the world to be sold. When I consume it, I have no connection to the original wheat that it came from, and that’s just whole ingredients, let alone processed foods. Yet I picked the wild garlic in the forest, separated it from the ground with my own two hands, and through that process built a connection with it.
There are a number of incredible lessons that we can take from wild garlic:
To make use of what we have - We live in a world where we’re always looking for more and more and new and better. Wild garlic teaches us to make use of what’s around us. Especially during the pandemic, where it’s so easy to become frustrated with the circumstances we find ourselves in, wild garlic reminds us that there are some things we can’t change, but we can always make the most of what we have.
To be aware of our surroundings - My discovery of this magnificent plant is very much tied to the pandemic, and the fact that I now find myself taking long, slow walks, roaming without a purpose. If I had not slowed down, stopped to smell the roses wild garlic, I may never have encountered this abundance. What else is all around me? What other things am I missing out on because I’ve not slowed down and opened my eyes?
Even humble objects have great possibilities - That something as simple as a leaf growing from the ground can lead to endless possibilities, from fancy fermented spreads to luscious artisanal breads, is truly incredible. If a tiny little leaf can produce so many possibilities, what can I be doing with other things in my life?
To seek out the gifts that present themselves to us - What a gift! A deliciously spicy, edible plant that grows in abundance right on our doorsteps? What could be better? Wild garlic teaches us to be curious about our surroundings, to learn new things, to be open to the world around us and the gifts it brings us.
And it’s not just the wild garlic. There are so many wonderful gifts all around us. I learnt to only wear dresses with pockets when I go out, because I’ll invariably return home with said pockets stuffed with all sorts of found goodies - from pine needles to fallen blooms to little tufts of wool pulled off of fences.
I’ve taken to collecting sea glass whenever I go to the beach. The ground is full of it, smoothed out chunks of turquoise and green, washed ashore from distant places. I keep it in a bowl at home, and sometimes pick through and try to imagine where it came from. But the act of collecting it is a mindfulness exercise in itself. Combing the sand, looking out for something so tiny amidst something so large forces me to pay attention, to open my eyes, to take in my surroundings. It’s a very soothing practice, and I’m always surprised at how much is hidden within plain sight.
It’s a constant process, this learning to see and experience the world around us. In a lot of ways, I think the pandemic has changed things for us, encouraged us to see more, to be more aware. Wishing everybody a beautiful spring full of new experiences, and hopefully some wild garlic!