WILD FOR WILD GARLIC. How to forage for it and make a delicious wild garlic butter.
Updated: May 25, 2021
As a Health & Wellness Coach, many clients, friends and family members want to know . . . what EXACTLY do I EAT?! So on this 'on-going' blog post series, I intend to highlight some of my go to meals as I adapt through the various circumstances of living on the road and at home in Bloemendaal, Netherlands. In a nut-shell I am a foodie at heart and always on the hunt for Organic (Bio), Seasonal and the best Quality ingredients I can find! Sometimes I get REALLY lucky and strike gold finding artisanal products made with all of the above characteristics plus my favourite criteria of all, made with lots of LOVE!!!
I first discovered wild garlic when I spent 6 months in an Osho meditation commune called Pan on the Hill. The commune based in Germany is located just outside Frankfurt in an area called the Rhön, which is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The surrounding nature is stunning with its rolling hills, woods and abundant wildlife including wild boar, deer, foxes and many species of birds. It was there that I learned to forage for both Nettle and Wild Garlic. On most days I was in charge of the dinner salad and with that came the task of foraging. In Germany wild Garlic is called Bärlauch and in the Netherlands it is referred to as Daslook. As a wild uncultivated food, wild garlic is chock full of bioactive phytonutrients, minerals and vitamins. Folk tales commonly linked wild garlic to bears, which were meant to gorge on the leaves as they woke from hibernation in spring. Extracts of wild garlic leaf have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties, to lower blood pressure, decrease insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol,
WHEN TO HARVEST
I have fond memories of going out into the woods to forage. It was my precious alone time which I have to highlight is very rare in a commune. But I was often also transported to another dimension losing track of time and space in the natural sounds of the forest. For these reasons and the added bonus that wild garlic/bärlauch/daslook is absolutely divinely delicious I look forward to the season every year. Wild garlic/bärlauch/daslook will sprout up in the spring between March and May. This year I am harvesting in April. Of course, the exact ideal time will vary depending on the arrival of spring where you are located. The key features to look for is that the leaves are of mature length and the flower has yet to flower. I will point out that some will continue to harvest after the plant has flowered and even indulge in consuming the flower itself. However, it was taught to me that the leaves will hold the maximum amount of flavour and nutrients prior to flowering and thus I strictly stick to this when I harvest. Harvest the leaves as close to the ground as possible but leave the bulb intact in the ground for the next year. Harvest responsibly by only picking from areas with bountiful supply and leave enough for the wildlife. A little of this plant goes a long way as it is very flavourful so only harvest what you need. I also like to ask the plant itself for permission.
HOW TO IDENTIFY
Once you have seen the plant, it is pretty easy to spot thereafter. Start with asking yourself is it spring? If the answer is yes proceed exploring. The next question to ask is it growing isolated or is it growing in patches almost like a carpet spreading across the forest floor? If it is growing like a carpet across the ground, then definitely get closer! Proceed to pluck a leave and crush it between your fingers. At this point the smell of garlic/onion should be overwhelming beyond any doubt. If there is any doubt, then it is NOT wild garlic/bärlauch/daslook. Definitely the smell of garlic/onion of the crushed leave is the key identifier. The vibrant green leaves are long and pointed with a smooth edge.
BEWARE OF IMPOSTER
Wild garlic//bärlauch/daslook has one imposter look-a-like and that is Lily of the Valley. At a glance Lily of the Valley can pass for wild garlic/bärlauch/daslook however the leaves of Lily of the Valley when crushed DO NOT smell like garlic/onion. Lily of the Valley also has a RED-coloured sheath at the bottom. (See the picture). IMPORTANT: Lily of the Valley is poisonous!!! If there is any doubt it is best to sit back and observe the plant for the 1st season as once it flowers it will be easier to identify as the flowers of the two plants are very different. (See the picture). Wild garlic/ bärlauch/daslook has white, star-shaped flowers held in a flat to spherical head while Lily of the Valley has white (pink), bell-shaped flowers grouped together in clusters of 6-12 bells on one side of the stem. They produce berries, which eventually turn red. Because you are dealing with bulbs once you identify an area where it is growing you can certainly return to the same spot every spring. NOTE: Despite this, even when I am foraging in an area where I have identified the plant in previous seasons, I will still go through the key identifiers and double check.
WILD GARLIC / BÄRLAUCH / DASLOOK BUTTER RECIPE
My favourite thing to do with the harvested wild garlic/ bärlauch/daslook is to make a butter with it! You will be able to harness and keep the flavour for many months thereafter as it keeps well in butter fat in the refrigerator. I personally use butter when cooking so you can imagine the amount of flavour that can easily be added to any recipe with just a spoonful. Even a simple recipe like scrambled eggs can be totally transformed and infused with extra nutrition and flavour. The possibilities are endless!
STEPS FOR MAKING WILD GARLIC / BÄRLAUCH / DASLOOK BUTTER
1- Prepare your harvested wild garlic/ bärlauch/daslook by leaving in tub of cold water with a little bit of vinegar for at least 3o minutes and then rinsing in cold water thoroughly. Drain all of the water and spread the wild garlic/ bärlauch/daslook over a kitchen towel to dry, if necessary overnight. You want the leaves to be dry.
2- Melt the amount of butter you want to make in very low heat (the butter should not boil or simmer).
3- Finely chop the wild garlic/ bärlauch/daslook and add it to the butter. Stir and allow the mixture to sit in very low heat so that the flavour can infuse the butter for at least 15 to 20 minutes.
4- Remove from heat and transfer into your container (preferably glass and ensure it is cleaned thoroughly and dry).
5- Allow the containers to cool down completely to room temperature before placing them in the refrigerator.
While this is my favourite way to prepare and store wild garlic/ bärlauch/daslook, you can also add the raw chopped leaves directly to salads or directly into any recipe. Wild garlic/ bärlauch/daslook can be eaten RAW or COOKED. You can also dry the leaves like you would any other herbs and this is the method how you will most often find it in the supermarket. If you want to stay tuned to my latest adventures, experiments and daily inspirations follow me on instagram.