A few years ago, inspired by a wild garlic omelette, we started foraging for wild garlic (known locally as ransoms) in the woods on our farm in Devon. What started as a source of pocket money for my children soon became so popular in the vegboxes that we had a team spending much of the spring on their knees, gathering these deliciously pungent leaves.
Then disaster struck. For a brief period in March and April before the trees come into full leaf, ransoms can form a dense ground cover. Unfortunately, the same growing conditions that favour wild garlic also favour a plant called lords and ladies, which has a leaf similar in colour and texture to wild garlic, but is toxic. It happened; an errant leaf made it through and we concluded that we couldn’t take the risk.
Three years later wild garlic is on the menu of every trendy eatery and has even made it to the shelves of more adventurous shops at £30/kg plus. It seemed that maybe we had been uncharacteristically risk averse, so to explore the issue I had a small test nibble on lords and ladies myself; it felt like a fox had sprayed in my mouth and washed it down with sulphuric acid. Indeed a search of the web suggests the sensation in the mouth (caused by needle-like oxalate crystals) is so rapidly unpleasant that it would be hard to eat enough to cause lasting harm. Bolstered by my guinea pig trials, we have decided to try again and be very, very careful with our picking and to check again in the barn as we bag.
My enthusiasm for wild garlic is not limited to omelettes and salads; it is also one of the most sustainable foods we could eat and is in season at the heart of the hungry gap when local greens are in short supply. In the longer run I have plans to gather seeds and introduce it to the many acres of new deciduous woods that have been planted on the farm. Meanwhile, all being well, wild garlic will be on the extras list for the next two or three weeks. If you are interested in finding out more, watch our video here.