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Foraging: Wild Garlic

For me, wild garlic marks the beginning of a new year of foraging. Starting in March (if you live in the South you might be lucky enough to find it earlier), your local woodland floor will be carpeted with fragrant wild garlic (or ramsons if you prefer) through until May or June time.

Wild garlic is one of the easiest plants to identify because of its unmistakeable scent (garlic, would you believe?!), but it is also relatively easy to find - it grows anywhere! Having said that, it prefers damp soil so if you're on the hunt the best place to start looking is near rivers and streams and in damp woodland areas. Initially it will grow in small clumps, but within a few weeks it will be abundant and may well cover the woodland floor for as far as you can see.

What I love about wild garlic is that it is the gift that keeps on giving.

At the beginning, you have the beautiful green leaves that you can make into a vibrant pesto to accompany a pasta dish. A stunningly simple recipe that yields big flavours. Or, you could go all out and make fresh wild garlic pasta - check out my wild garlic tagliatelle dish in the 'Recipes' section.

Next, the beautiful white flowers. First up, you'll see the flower buds starting to emerge through. These can be picked and pickled, and are a lovely accompaniment to a salad or seafood dish. When the flowers are in bloom, they provide the most stunning garnish to a dish, along with their delicate garlic flavour.

Finally, when most of the plant has died away, you'll be left with the seed pods. Often called wild garlic capers, because it looks like a little caper on the end of a stem, these pack a fierce garlic punch. I learned the hard way that these are a little too pungent to eat straight from the plant! But when pickled for a few weeks, the harshness gives way and you're left with a wild garlic flavour that you can enjoy for months after the season is over. I like to pimp my tartare sauce with these. In fact, they were featured as part of my 'signature dish' on Masterchef.

If you're picking wild garlic for the first time, there are a few things to look out for. Wild garlic often grows around other plants such as cuckoo pint, which are toxic. Make sure that you have not collected any other plants when you're picking the leaves. I have seen people mistake bluebell leaves for wild garlic, and trust me, you do not want to get them mixed up. Bluebell leaves are much thinner than wild garlic leaves and (here's the give away) they don't smell of garlic. The easiest thing to do is follow your nose - pick a leaf and if it smells of garlic and it looks like the images below, you're probably onto a winner. If the flowers are in season, then it is even easier to identify. Please, do not eat something if you are not 100% sure what it is.

When foraging any plant, do make sure that you seek permission from the land owner (if known). Avoid pulling up the whole root of the plant, because this will stop it from growing back. And only take as much as you need - leave some for others to enjoy.

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