Foraging Garlic Mustard / Jack-by-the-hedge / Alliaria Petiolata

Foraging Garlic Mustard – The Creme of the Hedgerow

Learn about foraging garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) Brassicaceae

Wild food hedgerow walks in winter are almost guaranteed to throw up opportunities to go foraging garlic mustard. For me, it’s one of the best wild food resources you can find in the hedgerows.

This plant is also mentioned in my winter foraging guide, and features in my foragers card game sets. The subject of cooking with and foraging garlic mustard needed an article all to itself, so here goes. You can find a recipe for a garlic mustard creme  in the wild food recipes page.

Why go foraging garlic mustard?

Abundance, and simply because it doesn’t really stop giving. There are 8 different plant parts you can use throughout its gradual metamorphosis, and as the seasons pass, you will almost always find something to harvest.

  • Tap roots
  • Leaves
  • Petioles from new growth in spring
  • Stems, when young and tender
  • Flowering Shoots
  • Flowers
  • Seeds
  • Microgreens

Foraging garlic mustard can offer us similar health benefits to those we know from some closely related species, such as horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) and hedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale).

When we go foraging garlic mustard we are helping to keep in check a plant that is counted in certain parts of North America, where it has no natural predators, as a virulent invasive weed, proving so far impossible to .

Botanical and sensual description to help I/D when foraging garlic mustard

Garlic Mustard is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant.

Remember that in practice, the terms ‘annual’ or ‘biennial’ are often ambiguous, and are frequently used as purely descriptive categories for the nurseries and gardens to explain cultivation.

Annual’s – are mostly used to describe plants that complete their life-cycle in less than 12 months. However, these plants can sometimes grow longer than 12 months. Some of the plants  grown in the UK are treated as annuals, i.e. chili peppers,especially when they originate in sub-tropical climates.

Biennial’s – Taking more than one whole growing season to complete life cycle. can often be found over-wintering as a basal rosette. However, many seeds germinate in July and August, and can be in flower by  the next summer.

Garlic mustard produces overwintering rosettes of simple, kidney-shaped leaves, found on long petioles. These typically grow to approximately 10-15 cm across and can be a darker green colour during the winter. The leaves are net-veined with wavy and crenated margins.

 

Its’s leaves give off a recognisable pungent garlic / cabbage aromas when crushed. This is due to the presence of volatile sulphurous compounds, which as I mentioned in the watercress article are proving to be more than efficient at arresting the growth of some common cancers.

A large number of the Brassica family plants are identifiable from smell alone. Given that this family are all edible, then you can proceed to experiment when you know you have a brassica. Other recognisable Brassica  family patterns in the flowers, and the leaves will soon become apparent when you begin to use this easy-to-learn system for identifying plants.

As the seasonal weather patterns change here in the UK, due to human’s increasingly stark effects on the climate, flowering times may become somewhat erratic. Currently, we see full blooms of garlic mustard during April and into May. Flowering stems have a number of branches.

Leaves are alternately spaced on the stems, and gradually become more refined in size and shape, with a much smaller leaf stalk. They are soft apart from in winter, when they are somewhat more coarse – a necessity I suppose, given the lack of available sunshine coupled with the lower temperatures. Something worth noting for quite a few hardy herbaceous species.

The broccoli-type floret heads soon expand to reveal the pretty white flowers. These get to 10 mm across. Both are a beautiful wayside nibble. More moments to enjoy ambulating consumption!

All brassicas display flowers similar to a mini broccoli type head. Foraging garlic mustard will quickly bring you up to speed
Foraging garlic mustard flowers from March through April. Thy are a familiar brassica display of a broccoli type head

 

A common scene of ripening garlic mustard seed pods in late spring, having taken over municipal beds

 

Long, thin seed pods eventually form, that will split in two, revealing lines of brown seeds. These seeds are a mini cigar-shape, rather than round as found in many other family relatives such as mustard. Pods are held at angles on the flowering stem. The seeds are pungent when crushed.

During the early summer the seeds mature, pods wither, and eventually split to reveal their treasure. As many as 8000 seeds per plant are produced, which reportedly converts to a staggering potential seed bank of 100,000 seeds per square metre!

Germination en masse is the inevitable result  of this tactic, by a plant from the superb brassica family, for these plants are well-known for their indifference to soil, and without need for mycorrhizae. In the plant kingdom you can forage for a multitude of these plants on poor soils by the sea and estuary, together with the Chenopodiaceae family of beets, goosefoots, oraches and samphires. On these types of soil, mycorrhizae won’t be found, or for that matter, any soil humus. In this harsh environment, both these two plant families are reliable exponents of mass germination, and can sometimes offer a plentiful source of micro greens.

Garlic mustard can appear as small carpets of microgreens from the thousands of seeds each mature plant can produce

Habitats to look in when out foraging garlic mustard

This plant can be found in a number of settings. Unsurprisingly for a plant that has the word ‘hedge’ in a couple of common names, its favourite habitat are hedgerows.

You can also find it at woodland edges, shady grass banks, on waste-ground, at the base of walls and fences in urban settings, and as a common weed of cultivation.

More distribution information, including a map, its ecological requirements and other nuggets can be found on the British and Irish online flora. Another great Scientific resource for garlic mustard and other plants is the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International

Culinary uses of garlic mustard

Cultures from around the world have long used this plant, primarily the European people, because the plant is native to the NorthWestern region.  Its abundance wherever happy to grow means the leaves or other things are always available to add to the pot.

You may have already seen numerous recipes online for pesto, soups and salads based on this ubiquitous plant. I like a pesto, but prefer the leaves of this plant as lightly cooked greens dressed with olive oil / butter and lemon juice.

At some points of the year I inevitably throw them in to a well seasoned and spiced gram flour batter, along with a dozen or so different plant leaves, to make a wild leaf pakora. Look out for mass germination carpets of microgreens during late summer/early autumn, or in spring.

From mid to late spring, the flowering spears appearing everywhere are fantastic, being juicy, sweet, crunchy and peppery. I think they’re perfect raw, on the hoof, or in salads. These are my favourite food.

But the best medicinal part the plant are the tap roots. This then is my cream of the Garlic mustard crop. The root has no garlic flavour though. What you get is a poky blast of horseradish-like, sinus cleansing, microbe-killing heat! Brilliant, that’s any germs or beginnings of infection killed too!

 

The result of two minutes foraging garlic mustard roots. An easy to find, sinus blasting replacement for horseradish
The result of two minutes foraging garlic mustard roots

 

It takes just minutes to collect and only 15 mins or so to wash, scrub and chop the roots, before making something I reckon you will regularly want on your dinner table. Alliaria creme sauce.

From malicious to delicious. Alliaria creme sauce

The recipe for this simple condiment is going up soon on the foraged food page.

Happy foraging

 

 

 

 

Garlic and wild garlic

Wild garlic, Bulb garlic

Allium ursinum, Allium sativum

Liliacea family

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Only comparatively recently have the British public embraced garlic, a plant renowned globally for its culinary uses.
Before the 1980’s it wasn’t used anything like it is today.

In this discussion I deal with the similar culinary and medicinal aspects of both our native wild garlic (A.ursinum), commonly known as ‘ramsons’, and the better known medicinal food, bulb-garlic (A.sativum).

Although you won’t come across the bulb-garlic in the wild in Britain, it can be easily grown and acquired most everywhere, and is truly medicinal food, so, warrants inclusion in any discussion on the medicinal prowess of Alliums.

If you are yet to discover the carpets of wild garlic in British woodlands in early spring or to grow any in your garden, where have you been? In any case, you will want to soon after reading this!

The garlic’s are some of the many thousands of lilly family members, grouped together in a large genus comprising no fewer than 700 species of bulbous and rhizomous biennials and perennials.

They are native to the northern hemisphere, and are believed to have originated in Asia. Bulb garlic is certainly one of the most ancient of medicinal herbs, documented in Babylonian times (c.3000 BC), and found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (c.1370-52 BC).

Botanical description to help identify garlic

Both the bulb-garlic and its wild version are naturally biennial, taking two years to complete their life cycle. Bulb garlic is usually propagated from the individual cloves of the bulbs and grown over one ‘season’. In this respect, we grow bulb garlic as an annual crop in the garden.

Bulb garlic’s leaves are thin lanceolate blades, of a dark green hue, although not as large as their relative, the leek (Allium porum), which has a blue-green look to the foliage. Unlike the onion (A.cepa), bulb-garlic’s leaves are not cylindrical or hollow.

All Allium leaves have parallel veins on either side of the mid-rib, ad-pressed somewhat and creating a creased-blade effect. Bulb garlic can grow up to 45 cm high, although during flowering, the terminal spike can reach up to 75 cm.

The wild garlic is a similarly pungent plant to the cultivated bulb-garlic, but looks very different in appearance. It begins to poke out its leaves from small underground bulbs during the first, warmer and longer days of January.

In some shady areas the large succulent leaf stalks on ramsons will be up to 25 cm in length, even before broadening out into their lanceolate leaf shape. The actual blade is approximately 6-7 cm wide and commonly around 25 cm long.

Care should be taken before harvesting that you have identified the plant correctly, as wild garlic has a couple of similar looking plants.

As with all edible wild plants, we get at least three opportunities to ensure we have the right plant. First is the point of harvesting, second is during preparation of the material, and third is before adding to the pot or pan.

Make sure you aren’t harvesting the poisonous look-a-likes known as lords and ladies (Arum maculatum), or Lily-of-the-valley. The former is far more common than the latter. Both can be found in woodland habitats.

Lords and ladies will grow amongst wild garlic, but has arrow shaped leaves with two rounded lobes at the base of the leaf, as well as having a net-veined leaf pattern, which helps easily distinguish it from ramsons when looking closely. Knowing and observing this will save you from disaster if soley listening to that often heard advice about “…if it smells like garlic, it is garlic”.

Anyone who has handled ramsons, will know that the garlic smell will easily transfer onto your fingers ,and therefore it is possible to hold a leaf of lords and ladies to your nose and smell garlic! Far better to learn how to identify each plant!

Lily-of-the-valley on the other hand, has leaves that are pretty much the same shape as wild garlic, although without the long, alost transparent leaf stalk, or the clump habit that ramsons does, plus it has a very different inflorescence. I’ve not actually come across ramsons and lily-of-the-valley together, but that’s not to say I won’t tomorrow!

Ramsons is indicative of ancient woodland, and easily found throughout March and April where it often creates extensive carpets, at least it does in woodland in the more western and southern areas of Britain. It can be found at altitudes up to 450 metres.

Ramsons is an ephemeral bulb, flowering before the woodland canopy trees are fully open in spring. Typically their flowers open and set seed from April through May, with seeds maturing late June to July. Its dormancy period is during our summer time and this is the best time to harvest the underground bulbs. These are relatively small, coloured a light creamy-white, approximately 5 cm long and 1 cm wide.

The flowers are a creamy-white colour, sat on solitary, terminal stems. The small, star-like individual flowers are borne into an overall spherical shape. The unripe green seeds swell in late spring. These are excellent eaten green and raw, being fleshy, crunchy, and exuding garlic aromas and tastes.

Parts used….. Raw cloves are best, as they maintain all the medicinal potency which otherwise rapidly diminishes with cooking. For medicinal use, the advice will always be to use raw cloves. Leaves of wild garlic can be picked as soon as found in the early spring.

Harvest….. Bulb-garlic: When leaves turn yellow around mid-late July, dependent on region. Wild garlic: leaves; Feb-April. Flower buds; March-April. Flowers: March-May. Green seeds; April-may. Black seeds; May-June. Bulbs; June-December

Key constituents.…. Garlic cloves: Volatile oil (containing alliin, which after crushing or chewing is enzymatically converted to alliciin, one of the major active components of garlic); germanium; selenium; saponins; mucilage; amino acids.

Actions…… Anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-fungal, anti-viral, expectorant (due in part to the mucilage), anti-platelet, anthelmintic, hypo-lipidaemic, vaso-dilatory.

Pharmacology and uses of garlic….. Much of the pharmacological activity of this plant stems from the many acrid, volatile sulphurous compounds. They are known to inhibit cholesterol synthesis as well as fatty acid and triglyceride synthesis.

Therefore, regular use leads to less chance of fatty deposits on artery walls, and with it, less chance to develop the serious condition – atherosclerosis.

Anti-oxidant effects have been shown in animals (in vivo) and the test tube (in vitro). Garlic enhances the activity of free radical scavenging enzymes such as superoxide dismutase, whilst protecting lipo-proteins from oxidation. Both these factors point to its use in treating conditions such as atherosclerosis.

Bulb garlic is known as ‘lashuna’ in ayervedic medicine, being used for whooping cough, heart trouble, flatulence, dyspepsia and colic.
Immuno-stimulatory actions have been recorded for high-molecular weight proteins extracted from Garlic.

These reportedly stimulate the activity and production of some of our immune system defence cells known as macrophages, lymphocytes, and natural killer cells.

Another long-standing and well documented traditional use of garlic is as an expectorant, to help clear coughs and colds. The saponins are almost always linked to this effect.

Garlic is also used in dietary control of diabetes and hypoglycaemia because of the resultant improvement in pancreatic abilities to produce insulin.

Ramsons also contain alliciin, so will therefore be anti-septic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory, just somewhat milder so. Throughout the countryside in southern parts of Britain and Ireland, wild garlic has been noted as good at defeating coughs, colds and other ailments.

“Nine diseases shiver before the garlic”, was a saying in Sligo, Ireland, only 100 years ago. This points to the faith people placed in the herb to ward off many illnesses. This belief may have been reinforced during the 1918 global flu pandemic, when people carried around a clove in their pocket for protection. Garlic kills vampires remember!

Alliums thin the blood and will interact with aspirin, and could increase bleeding, as well as interacting with HIV drugs such as protease inhibitors. It also interacts with ‘warfarin’, and may potentiate the drug as well as increasing the chances of internal bleeding. More than 5 grams of garlic per day when taking warfarin can reportedly lead to problems.

The fiery nature of garlic brings with it some contra-indications for use. Namely, conditions of chronic or acute stomach inflammation, and low thyroid activity.

The compound allicin is responsible for many effects as well as the much documented anti-microbial effects. Many harmful micro-organisms are destroyed by Garlics, including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Proteus and Salmonella spp.

The bulb is a very useful source of selenium, This particular element can assist the body in cleansing itself of toxic heavy metals, as well as protecting the cardio-vascular system in a numbe of ways.

As a food, wild garlic lends itself very well to a pesto, in place of bulb garlic. It also goes well in white sauces with fish, and as a salad leaf, chopped as you would chives.

Raw wild garlic can add an extra healthy punch to the salad bowl. To reduce the strong flavour, just blanch slightly, or steam for a minute or two.

The leaves, leaf stalks, flower stems, flower buds, green seeds, and bulbs, can all be preserved by lacto-fermentation (my favourite method of preserving food, using salt and water) and I rate these plant parts really highly when treated this way.

The bulbs will stink when preserved as a ferment, but after a few months their flavour mellows to something similar to roast garlic.

The flowers make an interesting garnish, especially if dried, when their flavour takes on something akin to cheese and onion crisps!

I have yet to make a dried garlic seed / peppercorn mix, but nevertheless, ideas such as this encapsulate the beauty of finding your own food plants and playing with different parts of plants we already know. Through these experiments, we can rediscover ancient flavours of the countryside by creating new recipes or adapting old ones.

More could be written, and more will be discovered, if you trawl the web. These medicinal food plants are quite simply, super!