The very welcome arrival of Spring has brought with it my first foraged food recipes of the year. I love the idea of turning weeds in to delicious, healthy food -for free! For the past few weeks, with the milder weather and longer days, I have been spending as much spare time as possible outside in nature. I love seeing the spring wild flowers appearing, with different varieties blooming each week. I first spotted the leaves of three cornered wild garlic first shooting up in late February. The plant will remain in season until early Summer, with it’s flowers usually beginning to appear around late March or early April. It is not necessary to wait until the flowers have bloomed before harvesting -I picked the leaves for use in salads, soups and pesto several weeks ago in early March.
Three cornered wild garlic (Allium Triquetrum) is also referred to as three cornered leek, due to it’s subtle leeek or oniony flavour which also carries a taste of garlic. The plant usually has between three to fifteen white bell like flowers on long, straight stems with three sides, which grow in clumps up to about thirty centimetres high. The appearance of the flowers are similar to white bluebells. It can be seen growing wild in many places from early Spring, and it flowers until June. The best places to look for it are shady hedges, woodlands and banks as well as some urban roadsides and gardens. It originated in the Mediterranean and so is not a native plant to Ireland but has been naturalised here for just over one hundred years. It is very invasive and generally spreads easily, and for this reason it is not usually favoured by conservationists, due to it’s tendency to outgrow native Springtime flowers.
All parts of the plant are edible, from the bulb to the stem, as well as the flowers, which make very pretty garnishes. The young leaves are usually fairly mild and therefore perfect for using raw in salads. The flavour goes particularly well with potato salad with plenty of fresh lemon juice. As the plant matures, the flavour and aroma usually develops, and some people prefer to lightly saute the leaves before eating them at this stage. The best part about wild garlic is that the plants have all of the health benefits of their ‘tame’ cousins which we are more familiar with! Even more of a reason to get foraging!
Three cornered wild garlic is milder in scent and flavour than the other variation of wild garlic, Ramsons, which is more common in some places and is very popular with wild food enthusiasts and foragers. You can use Ramsons in the same way as Three Cornered Wild Garlic, and both are delicious, particularly for pesto. For pesto I do prefer three cornered wild garlic, as the garlic taste is slightly subtler with more of a spring onion flavour combined with it. No matter how many types of pesto I try, fresh basil will always be my ultimate favourite. Because this wild garlic pesto looks so similar to the much more common basil pesto, it is easy to get a shock on tasting due to the taste difference. This pesto is much stronger and more pungent than the basil version, so you might want to use it more sparingly than you usually do with the basil version-or maybe you’ll prefer it! The pesto obviously goes great with pasta or rice -I used mine with spelt spaghetti and fried courgettes. I also love it with sourdough bread and olives, or as a topping for potatoes and soups. Experiment with adjusting the flavours by increasing or decreasing the pine nuts, or substituting pine nuts for cashew or walnut.
When foraging, remember to be absolutely certain that the plant is what you think it is, you don’t want to be poisoned by another similar looking plant! Usually the strong garlic smell of Ramsons makes identifying the plant very easy, but three cornered wild garlic is more subtle. It is best to break a bit of the leaf to ensure that the garlic-onion smell is there, along with the identifying features of the leaves and flowers. Be careful when foraging that the plant has not been contaminated with chemicals or pesticides from gardeners or exposed to heavy pollution from local traffic. Always be mindful of not picking so much that the plant will be destroyed -a good rule of thumb is to only take away less than ten percent of the total population of the plants in the area, and to pick the leaves in such a way as to ensure that they can grow back.
Three Cornered Wild Garlic Pesto
- 150g wild garlic leaves
- 50g pine nuts
- 12 tbsp extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
To make, just whizz all the ingredients up in a food processor until you get your preferred consistency. This should be stored in the fridge, preferably in a glass, airtight jar, for up to five days.
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