Wild garlic is one of the most unmistakable wild foods in Britain and is right up there with blackberries for ease of identification and collection. For while the green leaves in themselves may resemble other types of plants, the woodsy aroma of garlic is so powerful that you can distinctly smell it through an open window as you drive by a patch.
The time for collecting it is generally around mid-March to end of April - during the time when the leaves are green and tender but before their white flowers emerge. It grows in shady, moist and sheltered areas and I have several large patches near me here on the Isle of Man. Not surprising since our glens and woodlands are filled with wild garlic in the spring and even the town of Ramsey was named after this abundant and tasty herb - Rhumsaa in Manx means 'Wild Garlic River'.
Though wild garlic's bulbs and flowers are also edible, it's the leaves that I use. Firstly, they're easy to harvest and extremely versatile - they can be used in salads, stir-fries, pestos, soups and so much more. Secondly, foraging laws in the United Kingdom and Isle of Man allow for the collection of wild berries, leaves, shoots and fungi but forbid the digging up of the plant's roots. There are times when these laws can be bent, such as when collecting Horseradish or Jerusalem Artichokes (both garden escapees) but digging up wild garlic bulbs is just not worth breaking the law - they're far to small to bother with ;)
To me, wild garlic tastes like a mix between conventional bulb garlic and leeks. Basically that means that it's a mild garlicky green that can be used to substitute both garlic and onions in virtually any of your recipes. If you know that it grows in your area, or have smelt a wispy scent of garlic on one of your recent walks I encourage you to try harvesting a bit for yourself. If you're unsure if you've found the right plant just crush one of the leaves and smell - if you detect garlic then you've found it. Alternatively you can hitch a ride into London and buy some at Borough Market for £10/pound or whatever ludicrous price they're asking for it these days. Personally, I prefer the kind of wild garlic that's local and more importantly, free!
Wild Garlic ~ Asian Chicken Noodles
Handful of Wild Garlic leaves
250g Chinese Egg Noodles
Pre-cooked shredded chicken - about half a chicken
3 pints of Chicken Broth
1 Tbsp Olive oil
1/2 tsp Sesame oil
1/2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1/2 tsp Chili flakes
1 tsp Honey
Note: I recommend using the remaining meat and carcass of a roasted chicken for this recipe. Pull the meat off of the chicken and set aside. Then put the skin, bones and other bits of the bird into a pot with four pints of water. Simmer the carcass for about half an hour and strain this broth off to use in the recipe.
1. Divide the wild garlic in two; chop half of it roughly and the other half more finely.
2. Heat the oils in a frying pan over med-high heat then add the shredded chicken meat. Leave the chicken undisturbed for several minutes so that it picks up some nice colour.
3. Drizzle the Worcestershire Sauce, Soy Sauce and honey over the chicken and stir well. Next, sprinkle the finely chopped wild garlic and chili flakes on top and stir again. Reduce the heat to low and allow the chicken to cook until the noodles are finished.
4. Heat the broth to boiling and add the egg noodles. Boil for a couple of minutes then turn off the heat and allow the noodles to soften in the broth for a further ten minutes.
5. Ladle the noodles and broth into large bowls then spoon the chicken mixture on top. Lastly, sprinkle the roughly chopped wild garlic on top and serve.