Saturday, March 29, 2008

Foraging: Wild Garlic

Wild garlic (Allium Vineale), along with wild onion (Allium Canadense), is one of the earliest harbingers of spring. I've been getting interested in learning more about foods we can forage here in Southwestern Ohio, and spring is prime foraging time. So I walked out to the boggy semi-wooded area of my back yard today. Sure enough, there were numerous clumps of wild garlic. You probably have some in your yard, too. They're easiest to see this time of year before you've started mowing, as they start growing before the grass does. They prefer wet areas at the edge of woods, so look under trees and wherever the ground tends to get marshy in the spring.

Growing, wild onion and wild garlic look very much alike in the early spring. According to the Michigan State Extension Service, wild garlic leaves are round and hollow and attach to the lower half of the stem. Wild onion leaves are flat, not hollow, and attach at the bulb.

It was helpful we've had so much rain recently, as in Cincinnati's heavy clay I'd've had a hard time harvesting these if the soil hadn't been waterlogged. I managed to pull up three clumps whole with bulbs covered in wet-clay mud, but one clump came up just leaves and no bulbs. But that's fine, there's plenty of flavor in the leaves, too. These are best in early spring, from mid-March to mid-April, while the tops are tender.

Cleaning these things is a royal pain. Mud, leaves, sticks, worms. Don't clean them in the In-Sink-Erator side of your sink. Trust me on this. But the hassle is worth it: you've just foraged a food from your backyard. How cool is that? And even cooler, this is a food that undoubtedly your great-times-five-hundred-grandmother was foraging in early spring 10,000 years ago as a member of some hunter-gatherer tribe. Now that's a traditional food! So turn on some music and get ready to stand at the sink for a while. Gx500Grandma rinsed them squatting by a snowmelt-fed stream. Kwitcherbitchin.

Here's what wild garlic looks like with most of the mud washed off but not yet trimmed. In my heavy clay this early in the year, the bulb ends haven't gotten very big. If you have a looser loam, you might get nice big bulbs, especially if you're harvesting in late April.

You can see the light brown hulls remaining on many of the bulbs. These slip off fairly easily -- soaking in warm water helps with the stubborn ones -- and then you just pinch off the roots between your fingers.

Here's what they look like trimmed and ready to use in a recipe. At this point, you can wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel and stick them into a plastic bag in the fridge for a couple of days, just like chives or other fresh herbs.










Wild garlic can be substituted for fresh chives (in which case you can just snip off the tops instead of pulling them and skip all the cleaning!) or for shallots, making its early appearance a boon to cooks trying to eat locally. However, it's not easy to find recipes specifying wild garlic. Most of what you find instead are recipes for ramps, one of the most prized of spring's foraged foods, which are called wild garlic in the UK. However, I did find one wild garlic recipe in The African-American Heritage Cookbook. I've adapted it here:

WILD GARLIC WITH BACON AND EGGS
Serves 1

1 slice bacon, diced
1/4 c wild garlic, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 t salt
1/8 t pepper

In a hot pan, saute bacon until nearly crisp. Stir in garlic and let cook until bacon is crisp. Stir in eggs and seasonings and fry, stirring, until eggs are done to your taste. Serve immediately.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Carol, I learned that there's a lookalike, False Garlic/Crow Poison (Nothoscordum Bivalve) that blooms much longer (the true allium blooms only for a short time) and doesn't have the onion/garlic smell. It looks like this.

22 comments:

vudutu said...

Val sounds good, I have some good very unlocal Belgiun bacon and very local eggs, I may try this in the morning.

Jen (Modern Beet) said...

This is an awesome post! I was just reading about wild onions on a gardening message board, and was wondering how one identifies them. How timely!

valereee said...

Jen, thanks! I actually photographed my mis en place and the final dish, too, but unfortunately the photo of the final dish came out looking unappetizing so I'm going to have to make it again. Which is fine because it turned out very good, thumbs up from both husband and son.

Vudutu, what makes bacon Belgian?

vudutu said...

Made in Belgium. Not really very local but I saw it at Kroger Boys last week and wanted to try it, great bacon but salty.

valereee said...

This post was featured in the blog carnival Fresh From The Farmers Market #2 -- thanks, Jen!

valereee said...

This post was included in Festival of Frugality.

White On Rice Couple said...

Oh how lucky you are to have these grow wild! This is a glorious dish to celebrate Spring! Beautiful!

valereee said...

This post was featured in the carnival All Women Blogging.

Finspot said...

Nice looking bunch o' bulbs there! We have the nodding onion (Allium cernuum) out here in the PNW, and wild garlic is apparently an invasive in some parts--but not in my backyard, unfortunately... Great post!

valereee said...

This post was featured in the blog carnival Farm Market Fare.

valereee said...

This post was featured in the All For Women blog carnival.

maybelles mom said...

I foraged yesterday--lots of garlic and YES ramps. I will put up my recipes soon.

valereee said...

Maybelles mom, you got ramps yesterday! :::envy:::

bobcat said...

This spring, I've learned to easily distinguish wild garlic from wild onions. The garlic has thin, tall, dark green, round, hollow leaves and looks like clumps of grass. I've identified two varieties of wild onions. One with dark green, slightly glossy leaves and the other has slightly wider leaves and are a lighter green. They often grow right alongside each other and the ditches are absolutely full of them. They both taste very good. One may be a Drummond onion, but can't be for certain on the exact species.

valereee said...

bobcat, all those alliums look so much alike in spring!

bobcat said...

valereee, wild onions have flat leaves. And so what if all alliums look alike? All alliums are edible. Wild garlic has round hollow leaves. I already posted this. In most areas, you're not going to have that many different varieties and if you're referring to a lawn, probably just one. And if people can't smell the leaves and bulbs and see if they smell like onions or not, there really is no hope. It's a true no brainer. Some people should just admit they don't like onions anyway and just move on.

valereee said...

bobcat, I guess it matters if you're looking for a garlic flavor vs. an onion flavor. :)

If you like one but don't like the other, you want to be able to identify them. I've got some that look like alliums but don't have the characteristic smell of either garlic or onions, and others that smell very similar -- or at least, after you've picked several, your hands smell like both! :) Yes, I too posted that the garlic leaves are round and hollow, the onion leaves are flat.

carol said...

In central Texas, there are at least two varieties of wild onion. Drummondii, which has the darkest green leaves with a slight gloss to them and Allium canadense, which has a slightly wider leaf and is a gray-green color. It has a net-like sheath on the bulbs as opposed to drummondii, which has a regular papery membrane on the bulbs. I can't tell the difference in taste and love them both. Wild garlic is easily distinguished from a distance and looks like clumps of dark green grass with straight leaves that don't droop. It bugs me when people complain about these tasty gifts from mother nature "invading" their "lawns", which consist of all imported grass and require tons of chemicals and maintenance to keep.

carol said...

valereee, the most common allium lookalike around here is crowsfoot/false garlic. It does resemble wild onions somewhat but I find it easy to tell the difference. Crowsfoot blooms all the time and the flowers don't look like onions while onions only bloom once and for a short time. And of course, any non-allium has no onion smell to it. Just pinch and smell.

valereee said...

Carol, do you know the latin name for crowsfoot? I was trying to do a google search on it to find an image of the flower, but I kept coming up with stuff that doesn't look like I'm expecting.

carol said...

Nothoscordum bivalve. Sorry, I meant to say Crow Poison. It will come up in google. If you had typed in False Garlic, it would have came up at the top of the search results.

Anonymous said...

Here in Columbia, S.C. I have Allium vineale growing wild in the fields.
It is a pest plant, that can not be killed by any means other than pulling & crushing the bulbs.
I have been pulling it out of my raised bed for 5 years now & still have it coming up.
Many people in Tenn. & Ky. eat it & pickle it, but I use tame garlic.