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Food for foragers – the wild garlic story

Food for foragers – the wild garlic story

By Ren Behan

Wild garlic might sound like a rare ingredient only used in posh restaurants, but it’s actually one of the most commonly foraged edible leaves and it can be found growing in abundance, in the woodlands, at this time of year. Wild garlic can also be known as ramsons, bear’s garlic or wood garlic.

I found lots of wild garlic last year during a guided walk in St Albans with The Foragers and Woodland Ways. Since then, I’ve been able to find it for myself. It grows from late winter until around the end of May. Towards the end of its season, it produces pretty, small white flowers. The flowers are edible, too.

Wild garlic is related to chives and can be used in the same way as you would use baby spinach or a delicate herb, such as basil. If you rub the leaves between your fingers you should get a strong smell of garlic.

The leaves are very delicate and only taste mildly garlicky. You can eat them raw, and are great when added to a big salad served with a plate of pasta or a lasagne.

If you are making a stir-fry for supper, quickly chop your wild garlic and add it towards the end of cooking. You could also shred the leaves and add them to a soup as a garnish, or to an omelette with herbs or even a quiche or savoury tart.

At this time of year, as spring veggies also come into season, I like to make a big pan of vegetable risotto, simply stirring some wild garlic leaves through at the end. Or, you could whizz the leaves up with pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil to make a quick wild garlic pesto to stir through your risotto or pasta dish.

You could also try adding some finely shredded leaves to some softened, fresh butter to make garlic butter, and use it spread over a pizza base or ciabatta for a milder-tasting garlic bread that the kids will really love.


Wild Garlic Soda Bread

  • Words & Recipe by
    Jette Virdi
  • Photography by
    Rincy Koshy

3 girls who I wanted to get to know better, 4 sets of creative souls and 1 afternoon that turned into 6 hours. ‘A little gathering’ was everything I had hoped for when I put pen to paper and sent the invites. What better way to get to know some very inspiring ladies than take them into the middle of Europe’s largest park and get them foraging for wild garlic in their wellies.

There was laughter, chats and blue skies. Once home wine was opened, charcuterie laid out and a loaf of wild garlic soda bread was made. Bringing people together over food is one of my favourite things. Searching and picking then creating with that food together is on a whole other level of fun, loveliness and all things good and whole.

Now is the season for wild garlic, you’ll find it near water, under trees and in forests. You’ll know instantly because the heady smell is a giveaway. My advice? Take people you want to know better and go searching.

Makes

Ingredients

450g white flour
12-14floz buttermilk (if you can’t find it use regular milk with juice of half a lemon)
1tsp salt
large handful of wild garlic, washed and chopped

Method

In a large bowl, sift the flour and mix in the salt and wild garlic.

Make a well in the centre and add half the buttermilk.

With one hand mix in a circular motion and try to incorporate together.

Add the remaining milk in stages, mixing constantly.

Don’t knead the dough, just use your hand in a circular motion. The dough should come together but not be silky smooth.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gently, using both hands, shape into a rough circle.

Cut a cross into the top, almost going all the way to the bottom.

Place in the oven for 15minutes then turn down the temp to 200C for another 30-40mins.

To make sure it’s cooked, tap the bottom, and if it sounds hollow take out to cool. If not leave for more time.


Spring into action

I f you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a pungent surprise. Well, not absolutely sure, maybe, but it's an odds-on bet. Wild garlic announces its presence long before you see it, enveloping you in its bosky aroma. It feels ancient, the scent of garlic hanging beneath the trees' bare branches, in the damp, earthy, early spring air.

Wild garlic is a friend to first-time foragers everywhere - number two on the list of easiest-to-identify-and-use hedgerow spring greens, after the ubiquitous nettle. Although its glossy, spear-like leaves can look a bit like lily of the valley, its smell puts you in no doubt as to what it is, so you need have none of the tyro terror of the first-time mushroom hunter.

It's sometimes called devil's posy, and it is certainly devilishly good. But wild garlic's flavour is a tad milder than its feisty smell would indicate. Once it has got your attention, it calms down a bit when you bring it into the kitchen, adding its pervasive but gentle savour to all kinds of dishes.

When you look at the fresh, juicy, young leaves, it's quite tempting to use them as you would young spinach, but I find them unappealingly slimy when cooked whole like this. Much better to think of them as broad-leaved garlicky chives. So chop them into fine ribbons and use to add flavour to salads, gratins, soups and sauces. Stir some into sour cream, crème fraîche or thick yogurt to go with a baked potato or to blob on to a thick vegetable soup. Or add to aïoli or any kind of mayonnaisy or yogurty dips.

Later in the spring, the pretty white flowers look great in salads. They taste challengingly garlicky, but even if you don't actually eat the flowers, they'll lend a hint of their allium astringency to the rest of the leaves in the mix.

Wild garlic butter is a good notion, too. Mash a tablespoon or two of finely shredded wild garlic into 100g or so of softened butter, and use as you would any other garlic or herb butter - to make garlic bread by spreading it recklessly through the middle of a bisected loaf (then rebaking it for 15 minutes in a hot oven) or to savour up a roast chicken by pushing it under the skin of the bird before you roast it. It'll melt deliciously over a good steak, too.

Just like chives, wild garlic is a natural companion to eggs and cheese. Our first two recipes here are a good starting point, but you could also stir some into cheesy soufflés, baked eggs, omelettes, tarts and the like. Fling it around with gay abandon - it'll soon be gone and you'll have to wait another year.

Scrambled eggs with wild garlic

The perfect indulgent breakfast or easy lunch. Serves two.

4 free-range eggs

Salt and ground black pepper

2 slices good bread

1 tbsp wild garlic leaves, finely chopped

A little more butter, for spreading

Break the eggs into a bowl with a good pinch of salt and a twist or two of pepper, then whisk with a fork. Place a small, nonstick saucepan on a low heat and melt half the butter. When it starts to bubble, pour in the eggy mixture and start stirring. Put the bread in the toaster. As the egg mixture gets hotter, it will thicken into soft lumps. When you get close to the texture you like, switch off heat and stir in remaining butter and garlic leaves. Butter the toast and spoon/pour the eggs over. Serve at once.

Wild welsh rarebit

This tangy classic is given extra flavour when you scatter wild garlic into the mix. Serves four.

300ml beer (bitter or pale ale)

100ml whole milk

50g plain flour

150g mature cheddar, grated

1tsp English mustard

Splash of Worcestershire sauce

Freshly ground black pepper

6 tbsp wild garlic leaves, finely chopped

4 slices good bread

Boil the beer until reduced by half, then add the milk and warm through. In a separate pan, melt the butter over a low heat, then stir in the flour to make a thick roux. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to prevent burning, then stir in the beer and milk a little at a time until you have a very thick, smooth béchamel sauce. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Season with mustard, Worcestershire sauce and a few twists of pepper. Stir in the wild garlic. Lightly toast the bread, then divide the cheesy mixture between the slices. Put under a hot grill for a few minutes until brown and bubbling. (If you're in a hurry, make a cheaty rarebit by mixing cheddar, garlic leaves and a few grinds of pepper, piling the lot on to toast, then seasoning with Worcestershire sauce and a slug of beer before grilling.)

Nettle and wild garlic soup

Nettle soup in all its variations is a springtime favourite at River Cottage. Wild garlic goes very well with this other easily-foraged ingredient. Just don't forget to take rubber gloves on your nettle hunt. Serves six.

1 carrier bag full of nettles

(ideally young leaves)

1 large or 2 medium onions, finely sliced

2 celery sticks, chopped

1 small leek, chopped

1 small celeriac (about 350g peeled weight), cut into cubes

1 large garlic clove, crushed (optional)

1 litre good-quality chicken

(or vegetable) stock

Salt and ground black pepper

1 pinch freshly grated

nutmeg (optional)

3 tbsp cooked rice (or 3 rice cakes)

2 tbsp wild garlic leaves, chopped

A little cream or some crème fraîche

2-3 tbsp wild garlic leaves, finely chopped

Pick over the nettles and wash them well. Discard only the tougher stalks, because the soup will be liquidised. Melt the butter in a large pan and sweat the onion, celery, leek, celeriac and garlic, if using, until soft but not brown - about 10 to 15 minutes.

Now add the stock and pile in the nettles, pushing them down to submerge. Bring to the boil and simmer, partially covered, for five to 10 minutes until the nettles are tender. Season with salt and pepper, and with nutmeg, if you wish.

Purée the soup in a liquidiser along with the cooked rice (or rice cakes) - the quantity is such that you will probably have to do this in two batches. Return the puréed soup to a clean pan, stir in the wild garlic leaves and reheat, but do not let it boil. Check the seasoning, then serve, garnishing each bowl with a swirl of cream and a generous sprinkle of chopped wild garlic leaves.

Wild garlic makes a very good skordalia, the garlicky Greek dip. Serve it with warm pitta bread, roast chicken or grilled fish.

2 large, floury potatoes (about 500g)

1 big handful wild garlic leaves (about 30g), finely chopped

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp white-wine vinegar

200ml extra-virgin olive oil

Fine sea salt

Boil the potatoes and mash until very smooth. Stir in the wild garlic, lemon juice and vinegar. Trickle in the olive oil, beating as you go, until you have a very smooth, silky paste. Season with a little salt and serve.


What does wild garlic look like?

Wild garlic grows in dense clumps, often carpeting woodland floors in the peak of the season. The vibrant green leaves are long and pointed with a smooth edge and are best picked when they are young. Wild garlic flowers form delicate white clusters and tend to bloom in mid spring. The flowers are also edible and can look pretty added to salads and other dishes.


Forager's delight: wild onion, wild garlic, wild night

Janet Wynn's dinner guests were in for a surprise. Poking from the evening's salad was wood sorrel, a wild plant that looks like clover and has a tart, lemony taste.

The day before, that same wood sorrel was poking up from the ground about 5 miles from downtown Boston. Wynn picked it during an evening walk along the Charles River led by wild-foods specialist Russ Cohen.

When the evening was over, Wynn had a perfect salad garnish, and Cohen had another convert.

"I loved the walk," the Brookline resident said. "I never knew anything about foraging before this. It's opened up a whole new world for me, and it is right here in our own backyards."

For 35 years, Cohen has been opening up the world of foraging for folks all over New England, giving tours to people interested in free food and picking up a few survival techniques. Lately, he's been pretty busy.

The growing interest, he suspects, springs from a hot trend out of San Francisco that is producing "locavores," people determined to eat only foods picked or produced locally, on a farm or in a forest. He also grudgingly concedes that popular television shows such as "Man vs. Wild" and "Survivor" have given foraging a new cachet.

On a recent sterling evening, Cohen separated fact from fiction in a walk along the Charles sponsored by the Boston chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety.

The group consisted mostly of young hikers, with a few folks more likely to relate to 1970s cereal commercials by natural-foods proponent Euell Gibbons. Some were mildly curious, others eager, and some, like Wynn, just out for a stroll.

It didn't take long for their attentions to fix on the slightly hippyish man with a close-cropped beard who stopped the procession every few minutes to describe the virtues of plants that looked like, and in many cases were, weeds.

Milkweed, pokeweed, Japanese knotweed. Wild garlic, wild onion, sheep sorrel, European barberry - it makes great jelly - were all found in abundance less than 20 minutes into the walk.

It seemed that the edible far outweighed the inedible, as plant after plant had some leaf, stem, root, fruit, or seed that makes a nice stir-fry, salad green, or seasoning, or tastes just like spinach when steamed.

"Just like many wild animals are said to taste a lot like chicken, a lot of wild plants are supposed to taste just like spinach," Cohen said. "But young mulberry leaves, when you steam them, really do taste just like spinach."

Standing in front of the near-ripe mulberry tree some 20 feet from the river's edge, Cohen dissected its many uses, some of which go beyond nourishment. Not only do the super-sweet ripe mulberries make a great vinaigrette salad dressing, but the unripe fruit is reputed to have recreational properties.

"The raw, unripe fruits are alleged by one wild foods author to be hallucinogenic," Cohen said. "I tried it when I was younger. I didn't experience anything. I don't know, maybe I didn't eat enough."

Getting your fill of some of these foods, Cohen cautions, is not the goal of foraging. These plants are mainly supplements - interesting, sometimes healthy, and often tasty embellishments that can be fun to gather if you know where and, just as important, when to look.

Milkweed, pokeweed, and Japanese knotweed are best in spring, when the plants are just shoots. Mulberries ripen toward the end of June, followed by blackberries and red raspberries.

In mid- to late summer you can make a pink lemonade-like beverage from staghorn sumac berries. Rosa rugosa rose hips ripen about the same time and make a tea that packs more vitamin C than oranges. Jerusalem artichokes are best between October and April, when the tuberous roots firm up.

"It really makes you think about the seasons," said AMC member Karen Deane of Somerville. "To think that there is this food available whenever you want it. It's kind of like having a garden."

There's also the nutritional aspect. Japanese knotweed is a rich source of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant that is sold in health food stores. Steamed mulberry leaves may taste like spinach, but they have a lot more minerals.

Some plants have more than one use. Burdock looks just like rhubarb, but doesn't have the poisonous leaves. It also apparently fits into more recipes than rice. The roots taste like a starchy artichoke the immature flower stalks, peeled and blanched, are great in spaghetti sauce and the leaf stalks make a Sicilian dish best described as burdock egg foo young.

"It's got me thinking of my environment as a grocery store," said Laura Feldman, also from Somerville.

Cohen has written a book on the subject, "Wild Plants I Have Known . . . and Eaten," where you can find a calendar that lists when various edible plants in New England can be eaten. Cohen also has a website, users.rcn.com/eatwild, with a schedule of walks planned for this year.

He says he is not in this for the money. The proceeds from his book - in its third printing - benefit a land-preservation group, the Essex County Greenbelt Association, and he asks to be paid for leading a tour only when the sponsoring group charges a fee.

"It's just a lot of fun," he said. "Foraging for edible wild plants feeds a lot of hunter-gatherer instincts that make people enjoy things like fishing, and it's a really good way to diversify your diet."

Still, he cautions that finding a salad garnish or pie ingredient in your backyard is one thing living off the land on the outskirts of Boston is another.

"Since the survivor-man programs, I've been getting peppered with questions about subsisting entirely on wild plants," Cohen said. "I tell people that if you want to work it into a conventional diet, fine. But don't go out there and try to live off acorns, it's in contravention to logic.

"Let's be honest," he said, "in this day and age in New England, it's more likely that you are going to find yourself in walking distance to a 7-Eleven before you have to survive on wild foods."


Wild Food Foraging: Finding and using Wild Garlic

It’s late May and getting towards the tail end of wild garlic season. Each year this leafy green herb faithfully emerges from the forest floor, filling the entire area with a soft garlicky scent. Very much else is growing in the garden in early April so those in the know head out to glens and bogs to find it. For the next eight weeks, you can fill your foraging basket with tender edible leaves that are excellent in all manner of savory dishes. They’re so prolific that in many areas there isn’t a fear of over-picking them either.

Wild garlic loves growing in hedgerows and banks

Growing in huge swathes

Here on the Isle of Man wild garlic is very easy to find – that’s because of the conditions it grows in. It loves moist, slightly acidic soil, and places with dappled sun. When I do spot it growing in huge swathes it will be in forested areas with either boggy soil or a stream flowing nearby. It also likes to grow in hedgerows, especially those which are made up of stone walls that have been covered up with soil over the years. These may be very specific to the Isle of Man though.

Wild Garlic Profile

  • The leaves, bulb, and flowers can be used in edible dishes
  • It tastes like mild garlic with a pleasant aroma
  • Grows in moist, boggy, places like glens and waterways
  • The first leaves can emerge in March and the plant will die down completely by early summer. They return again every spring.
  • The entire plant will smell of garlic

Wild garlic likes cool, moist environments like this boggy woodland

A wild green that’s easy to identify

If you’re a beginner forager then you should put wild garlic on your list of wild edibles to try first. They’re easy to identify and have excellent flavor, unlike many edible greens you might find in wild food guides. Oftentimes you’ll smell the plant before you even see it so it’s possible to drive around an area with your window open on a warm spring day to find it.

The plant is composed of a tiny bulb that sprouts tender green leaves in early spring and then later on white flowers emerge. You can pick and eat both the leaves and flowers from plants you find growing in the wild but it is not permitted to dig the plant or bulb up unless you find it growing on your own property.

The best time to pick wild garlic is when the leaves are new but before it flowers. You can still pick it afterward but the leaves aren’t as tender. Pick the flowers to use as garlicky flavored garnishes for salads and other dishes.

Wild garlic has very few plant look-alikes. If in doubt, bruise a leaf and smell and if it smells like garlic you’re in. If it doesn’t smell like garlic it may be Lily of the Valley which you want to avoid eating as it’s highly toxic.

In early summer, edible wild garlic flowers bloom

How to pick wild garlic

  • Only pick the leaves and flowers if you find it growing in the wild
  • It is not permitted to dig up the bulb/roots of any wild plant
  • Wild garlic bulbs are tiny and not like conventional garlic
  • Only pick a leaf from each plant to ensure it continues to thrive
  • Forage in areas away from busy roads and above the dog leg-lifting height if along a path. For obvious reasons!
  • Pick leaves with your hands, snapping the stem under the leafy part
  • You won’t use the stem in cooking so either pick it off the leaf as you forage (leaving it behind) or cut it off in the kitchen and compost it.
  • Tip: if you plan on using the wild garlic the next day or later, keep the stem on and put the leaves into a jar of water as you would with flowers. The leaves wilt quickly otherwise.

Wild garlic recipes

For most recipes you’ll only need a handful of leaves, maybe 10, which you then take home, rinse with cold water, pat dry and then prepare for cooking. Here are some ideas on how to use wild garlic in your meals:

  • Make homemade Wild Garlic Pizza
  • Wild garlic lightly flavours a delicate Asparagus Risotto
  • Make a creamy Vegan Wild Garlic Soup
  • Chop it up and sprinkle into Noodles with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Feta

Chop the leaves up and use in recipes in place of chives or green onions

A versatile ingredient

The leaves are used like any other green vegetable and can be used in stir-fries, lasagna, or literally any dish that needs greens. It can also be used as a herb and will lightly flavour the dish with a mild garlic taste. Wild garlic has literally countless uses in the kitchen so feel free to be as creative as you’d like. Get it in while you can though because once the plants die down in late spring it will be another year before you taste it again.

Grow your own Wild Garlic

If you’re not sure if wild garlic grows in your area, you can also grow it in the garden. Buy seeds online and sow them indoors from February to April. Seedlings will appear in 2-4 weeks and you’ll grow the seedlings on until planting them out in situ. Harden them off first and plant out after the last frost. Alternatively, you can broadcast seeds where they are to grow in late spring.

Leave the plants to grow the first year and begin harvesting from February the next year. Wild garlic is perennial and after the first sowing, they’ll continue re-growing for years.


The Wild Irish Foragers

We stand over our recommendations. With exacting selection and regular review processes we ensure a rewarding local Irish ingredient led experience. You can count on it!

Overview

Meet The Maker

Heritage recipes. Irish ingredients that grow wild and seasonal. A couple who love their land and its natural bounty. That’s the secret to success for the unique range of products from The Wild Irish Foragers.

All their wild berries, flowers and herbs are handpicked by the whole family, but Gordon is the main forager and all the Wildies are handmade by Sharon in small batches.

The Wild Irish Foragers and Preservers range represent the rich history of wild Irish ingredients and traditional, natural recipes.

Gordon forages the land around his parent’s home, the farm he grew up on. It has 55 acres, including picturesque pastures, untamed boglands, hedgerow lined lanes and a wood. In this natural environment, Gordon gathers hawthorn flowers, elderflowers, meadowsweet, two types of clover, honeysuckle, nettles, rowanberries, elderberries, hawthorn berries, beech nuts, crab apples, damsons, sloes and rosehips.

Every season brings a new ingredient and new excitement in the kitchen. Sharon sets to work, with a traditional preserving pan and equipment, often ancient recipes and pure woman power. All her preserves have their own story to tell. Beginning with Rosehip Syrup, which was the first syrup Sharon ever made to give to her growing family as a health drink.

Rosehip Syrup has become a daily addition to porridge in the Greene household. Preserves include Pontack, an elderberry reduction from a 17th-century London recipe, created by Monsieur Pontack, who came from a French winemaking family and once owned the Pontack Arms in Lombard Street, London. This condiment is used sparingly with game. Haw Sauce and Hawty Haw Sauce with chilli and garlic added are made from the produce of the Hawthorn Tree, known by children of old Ireland as the ‘Bread and Cheese’ tree. No wonder these two sauces dress up the cheeseboard.

Meadowsweet in Meadowsweet Pot was a sacred plant revered by the Druids. This little preserve has an intense flavour for glazing ham or dressing pancakes. Sharon’s ‘Fruit Cheeses’ include Crabapple and Chilli for a salad dressing or Crabapple and Wildberry for a cold meat platter.

These artisan products are available to purchase online, at local farmers markets and in select independent food stores across Ireland.


Forager's delight: wild onion, wild garlic, wild night

Janet Wynn's dinner guests were in for a surprise. Poking from the evening's salad was wood sorrel, a wild plant that looks like clover and has a tart, lemony taste.

The day before, that same wood sorrel was poking up from the ground about 5 miles from downtown Boston. Wynn picked it during an evening walk along the Charles River led by wild-foods specialist Russ Cohen.

When the evening was over, Wynn had a perfect salad garnish, and Cohen had another convert.

"I loved the walk," the Brookline resident said. "I never knew anything about foraging before this. It's opened up a whole new world for me, and it is right here in our own backyards."

For 35 years, Cohen has been opening up the world of foraging for folks all over New England, giving tours to people interested in free food and picking up a few survival techniques. Lately, he's been pretty busy.

The growing interest, he suspects, springs from a hot trend out of San Francisco that is producing "locavores," people determined to eat only foods picked or produced locally, on a farm or in a forest. He also grudgingly concedes that popular television shows such as "Man vs. Wild" and "Survivor" have given foraging a new cachet.

On a recent sterling evening, Cohen separated fact from fiction in a walk along the Charles sponsored by the Boston chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety.

The group consisted mostly of young hikers, with a few folks more likely to relate to 1970s cereal commercials by natural-foods proponent Euell Gibbons. Some were mildly curious, others eager, and some, like Wynn, just out for a stroll.

It didn't take long for their attentions to fix on the slightly hippyish man with a close-cropped beard who stopped the procession every few minutes to describe the virtues of plants that looked like, and in many cases were, weeds.

Milkweed, pokeweed, Japanese knotweed. Wild garlic, wild onion, sheep sorrel, European barberry - it makes great jelly - were all found in abundance less than 20 minutes into the walk.

It seemed that the edible far outweighed the inedible, as plant after plant had some leaf, stem, root, fruit, or seed that makes a nice stir-fry, salad green, or seasoning, or tastes just like spinach when steamed.

"Just like many wild animals are said to taste a lot like chicken, a lot of wild plants are supposed to taste just like spinach," Cohen said. "But young mulberry leaves, when you steam them, really do taste just like spinach."

Standing in front of the near-ripe mulberry tree some 20 feet from the river's edge, Cohen dissected its many uses, some of which go beyond nourishment. Not only do the super-sweet ripe mulberries make a great vinaigrette salad dressing, but the unripe fruit is reputed to have recreational properties.

"The raw, unripe fruits are alleged by one wild foods author to be hallucinogenic," Cohen said. "I tried it when I was younger. I didn't experience anything. I don't know, maybe I didn't eat enough."

Getting your fill of some of these foods, Cohen cautions, is not the goal of foraging. These plants are mainly supplements - interesting, sometimes healthy, and often tasty embellishments that can be fun to gather if you know where and, just as important, when to look.

Milkweed, pokeweed, and Japanese knotweed are best in spring, when the plants are just shoots. Mulberries ripen toward the end of June, followed by blackberries and red raspberries.

In mid- to late summer you can make a pink lemonade-like beverage from staghorn sumac berries. Rosa rugosa rose hips ripen about the same time and make a tea that packs more vitamin C than oranges. Jerusalem artichokes are best between October and April, when the tuberous roots firm up.

"It really makes you think about the seasons," said AMC member Karen Deane of Somerville. "To think that there is this food available whenever you want it. It's kind of like having a garden."

There's also the nutritional aspect. Japanese knotweed is a rich source of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant that is sold in health food stores. Steamed mulberry leaves may taste like spinach, but they have a lot more minerals.

Some plants have more than one use. Burdock looks just like rhubarb, but doesn't have the poisonous leaves. It also apparently fits into more recipes than rice. The roots taste like a starchy artichoke the immature flower stalks, peeled and blanched, are great in spaghetti sauce and the leaf stalks make a Sicilian dish best described as burdock egg foo young.

"It's got me thinking of my environment as a grocery store," said Laura Feldman, also from Somerville.

Cohen has written a book on the subject, "Wild Plants I Have Known . . . and Eaten," where you can find a calendar that lists when various edible plants in New England can be eaten. Cohen also has a website, users.rcn.com/eatwild, with a schedule of walks planned for this year.

He says he is not in this for the money. The proceeds from his book - in its third printing - benefit a land-preservation group, the Essex County Greenbelt Association, and he asks to be paid for leading a tour only when the sponsoring group charges a fee.

"It's just a lot of fun," he said. "Foraging for edible wild plants feeds a lot of hunter-gatherer instincts that make people enjoy things like fishing, and it's a really good way to diversify your diet."

Still, he cautions that finding a salad garnish or pie ingredient in your backyard is one thing living off the land on the outskirts of Boston is another.

"Since the survivor-man programs, I've been getting peppered with questions about subsisting entirely on wild plants," Cohen said. "I tell people that if you want to work it into a conventional diet, fine. But don't go out there and try to live off acorns, it's in contravention to logic.

"Let's be honest," he said, "in this day and age in New England, it's more likely that you are going to find yourself in walking distance to a 7-Eleven before you have to survive on wild foods."


Recipes: Wild Garlic Flatbread and Wild Garlic Börek

We went foraging for wild garlic in London last weekend, stuffing two big bags with pungent green sprays. After sifting through for buds (now pickled), we found ourselves left with an entire binbag-full. It triggered flashbacks to the time we ended up with 34kg of spring onions.

So it’s wild garlic in everything. I’ve put it into my easy everyday flatbread recipe, smearing them with extra wild garlic butter while still warm from the skillet. D has made batches of wild garlic kimchi and wild garlic pesto, and we had wild garlic buttered soldiers with our eggs this morning (recommend). Yesterday I made the wild garlic and cheese börek recipe below, and I’m still staring down a half-full bag.

Here are the recipes for the wild garlic flatbreads and the börek – enjoy! You, too, could stink of garlic 24/7. Oh, and before you ask: I got the stuff in Mile End, not Camberwell. Sorry! I believe Dulwich Woods is full of it, though.

Wild Garlic Flatbread Recipe

Makes 8-12 depending on how large you want them.

500g strong white flour plus a little extra for dusting and mixing
2 teaspoons salt
30ml olive oil
300ml warm water
1 packet of instant yeast
150g wild garlic leaves, washed and chopped
Extra wild garlic chopped and mashed into butter is recommended for serving!

Mix everything together in a bowl and give it a knead on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes, until smooth and springy. You may need to add a little more than 500g flour (just a dusting), as the wild garlic adds moisture but just mix it together and see how you go. You want a nice, smooth, springy dough.

Leave the dough in a warm place for an hour or so until it has roughly doubled in size.

Knock back the dough and divide into 8 balls for larger breads or 12 for small.

Roll the dough balls flat and cook for 2-3 minutes in a properly hot, dry pan (I use a cast iron griddle) until a little charred on each side. They will start to puff up when ready. Keep them warm inside a clean tea towel while you cook the rest.

Wild Garlic and Cheese Börek Recipe

150g wild garlic leaves washed and chopped (don’t worry about them being *too* finely chopped as they will wilt and it’s nice to have some slightly larger bits I think)
200g white Turkish cheese (I bought ‘beyaz peynir’ which literally means ‘white cheese’ in the Turkish Food Centre but you could use feta if you don’t have a similar shop nearby)
1 packet yufka pastry (again I buy this in the Turkish Food Centre – you could use filo if you like but it will be a much crisper result as filo is thicker)
Around 100g butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
A sprinkle of za’atar and chilli to serve (optional)

Mix the chopped wild garlic leaves well with the crumbled white cheese.

Have your melted butter ready, then lay out a double sheet of yufka on a work surface. Brush all over with butter. Lay another two sheets overlapping the edge on the right-hand side of the first sheets. Brush with butter. Repeat this four or 5 times (depends how much surface space you have, to be honest.

On the bottom edge of the sheets, make a long strip of the wild garlic and cheese mixture, as if you are making the largest spicy cigarette of your life. Carefully roll it up into a long sausage, brushing the edge at the top with a final layer of butter before sealing. Curl it around into a snail shape, then add to a cake tin, brushing again with butter (bit of a theme, the butter thing). Finally, give it a quick wash with the egg – this makes it nice and golden.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown. It tastes best when still slightly warm from the oven.


Foraging with Fiona Bird: Wild Garlic and Jack by the Hedge

On Mothering Sunday, I picked wild garlic with my eldest son. We didn’t find any sweet smelling violets but cheery yellow celandines and primroses were popping up on the grassy ditch banks- spring is here. Foragers can have a lean time of it over the cold winter months but as the days lengthen, and we hear the distinctive song of the skylark as it hovers in flight, the forager can fill his or her basket with wild spring greens and buds. The March wind may blow but wild garlic works as well in a warming dumpling as a sushi style wrap.

You’ll often smell ramsons (wild garlic) before you see it, in woods or banks near water. Wild garlic frequently borders the drives of grand houses. It was planted here to avoid stinking out the kitchen garden. Bruise the lily of the valley style leaf to release a strong scent of garlic, and then use scissors to cut to your culinary need. Harvest enough for your own use, no more, and don’t tug out any roots. Pedants argue a difference between British ramsons and US ramps but loosely, both may be referred to as wild garlic. You may also find three cornered leeks or indeed, few flowered leeks (especially in and around Edinburgh). Both can be used in wild garlic garlic recipes but neither of these plants are wild garlic.

Jack by the hedge. Picture: Fiona Bird

Jack by the Hedge adds a hint of garlic flavour too. The key to its likely location is in one of its colloquial names - hedge. City foragers may with luck, find poor man's mustard or garlic mustard nestled between tarmac and garden or supermarket fences. It often grows on waste ground. Avoid picking garlic mustard in areas where pets are walked or near busy roadsides. This fast growing member of the Brassicaceae family dislikes the glare of the sun.

Eagle-eyed gardeners may find it banking shady borders as they weed. Bruise a leaf of hedge garlic between a finger and thumb to release a light garlic aroma. Jack by the Hedge may be described as a groupie find one plant and it’s probably the start of a lengthy border. Reference to Jack (Jill gets an occasional look in) in folklore means common, its inclusive, there for everyman (or woman).

Jack by the Hedge is well named. Its larger leaves are heart shaped and smaller ones (closer to the tip) are pointed, almost triangular. Left to its own devices, Jack by the Hedge can grow up to 1-2 metres. The white flowers (April-July) are in leafless clusters, each with four petals in the shape of the St George cross. The flowers are pretty and add flavour to a salad or soup.

Use scissors and cut a few leaves from each plant. Hedge garlic is however, a wild herb that a forager doesn't need to fret over because it is plentiful. Indeed, it is considered invasive in some areas of the USA. It is said to be a nutritious spring green, and can be found as early as February, if the weather is kind. The leaves at the top are the most tender.

Add finely chopped hedge garlic leaves for bite, a hint of garlic and colour to salads, dips, mayonnaise and sandwiches. Use the leaf in pesto, frittata and soups or add it at the last minute to sauces - one of its local names is Sauce-Alone. Chop the leaves in place of mint, for an instant sauce to eat with lamb. Pick and cook as fast as you can because the leaves wilt. One final word of advice: beware of overcooking Jack. Some say that this leaf is best eaten raw.

Hedge Garlic & Tomato Bruschetta (an adaptation of a recipe from The Forager's Kitchen)

• Zest ½ small orange, scrubbed

• 1 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

• 4tbsps. Hedgerow Garlic, washed and chopped

• 15-20 Hedge Garlic flowers (optional – later in season)

Use a sharp knife to mark a small cross on each tomato and plunge the tomatoes in a bowl of boiling water for 10-15 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge the tomatoes in cold water for 10 seconds. Peel the tomato skins. Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Chop the flesh into small pieces and put it in a large sieve. Finely grate the zest of half the orange and add this to the tomatoes.

Leave to drain for at least 20 minutes.

Put the drained tomatoes and orange into a mixing bowl and add the olive oil and chopped hedgerow garlic. Mix briefly and season with black pepper. Meanwhile, lightly toast 1cm slices of the bread. Use a teaspoon to pile the mixture high on to the toasted bread. Decorate with the flowers (optional) and serve as soon as possible.

• Fiona Bird is the author of Kids’ Kitchen (Barefoot Books 2009), The Forager’s Kitchen (Cico Books 2013) and Seaweed in the Kitchen (Prospect Books 2015). Her latest book is Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside: Creative Ways to Help Children Discover Nature and Enjoy the Great Outdoors.