Discovering Wild Garlic in My Backyard and How to Cook It
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I recently moved into a new home with an overgrown backyard full of bee balm, tangled weeds, and tons of unfamiliar plants. While I was tugging out handfuls of dandelion, crabgrass, and chickweed, I kept finding long, stringy sprigs sprouting in the garden beds.
Curious about what they were, I collected them into one separate pile, thinking my gardening wiz of a mom would be able to help with identification. it. She took one look and said, “I see you’ve found some wild garlic!”
“Not like real garlic, though,” I said in response.
“Uh, yes, real garlic,” my mom laughed.
While I couldn’t believe my luck (Fresh garlic in my backyard? Woohoo!), wild garlic — Allium vineale—is considered a noxious weed. In fact, the USDA vilifies the plant because it’s known to grow in pastures where it’s eaten by cows and in turn contaminates their milk. But for home gardeners, wild garlic isn’t harmful to anything but your backyard’s aesthetic.
Found nearly everywhere across the country, this weed is native to Europe, the Middle East, and northwestern Africa. It was likely introduced to the U.S. by Europeans traveling over in the colonial era.
Garlic grass begins sprouting in the early spring and produces blooming flowers from May through July. It can be identified by its long, thin, green stalks and white bulbs. Like me, you might evenpull clumps of it from your garden bed while weeding without knowing what it is.
As with anything you forage, it’s essential to be well-educated before you dig in. There are several garlic grass look-alikes that are toxic, so gardeners should do plenty of research or take a local foraging class before cooking with wild herbs and plants.
Wild garlic grass can also be confused with ramps—a completely different plant. Ramps have two large flat leaves shaped like a “V” with bright white stems that are burgundy at their roots. Though separate plants, ramps can be used in any dish garlic grass can, though its flavor has a peppery bite to it.
To identify garlic grass, use this checklist:
– The smell is distinctively garlicky
– The leaf shape is long and hollow, almost tubelike (like scallions). The leaves are flexible and can curl when grown long enough
– The bulb is small, white, and often has a papery coating on the outside
– Plants may bloom white or purple flowers May through June
Once you’ve identified with 100% certainty that your plant is indeed wild garlic, it’s time to forage. When collecting the weed, don’t pull from the top or you’ll leave the bulb in the ground. Dig around the base and lift gently from the soil.
Be sure to thoroughly wash the stalks and bulbs ash. As a rule of thumb, forage where you trust. If you’re unsure whether the soil has been mixed with harsh chemicals or fertilizer, avoid eating.
Colleen Horsford, owner of Valley View Farm Bed and Breakfast in Sommerset, UK, finds wild garlic grass on the trails she and her husband hike on.
“The smell is crazy garlicky when we go for walks,” she says. “In addition to wild garlic, we pick nettles for nettle soup.”
A budding interest in using ingredients from nature led Horsford to take a local foraging class. Through the class she learned how to also make garlic salt and dandelion cookies.
She pulled inspiration from a collection of recipes and came up with wild garlic soup, a hearty, creamy recipe with an extra fresh bite from the wild garlic grass.
Wild Garlic Grass Soup
- 2 large handfuls wild garlic, chopped roughly
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 potatoes, diced
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 32 oz. chicken stock
- 4 oz. regular or double cream
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Wash wild garlic and slice the small spindly roots off the bottoms of the bulbs. Cut the bulbs from the long green stem. Roughly chop garlic grass.
2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, toss in potatoes, onion, garlic bulbs, garlic grass, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until tender.
3. Add stock and bring to a rolling boil. Cook for about 2 minutes.
4. Carefully, pour into a blender and blend until smooth.
5. Return to pan on low heat, stir in cream and taste for seasoning.
Recipe courtesy of Colleen Horsford.