Last night we went for a lovely evening walk. Partly in an effort to get healthier and move more, and also because the kids hadn’t left the house all afternoon and were desperate to run around! It was on this walk that we discovered Bear Garlic.
The sight of wild garlic popping around in Spring time is a common one, whether in the UK or indeed here in France. On our walk, we took a path we’d never taken before, and ended up in this gorgeous little hidden woodland, with water flowing down straight from the mountains, and loads of moss covered trees. This woodland felt really remote and it was so beautiful. It was also filled with wild garlic, which was in flower. It looked truly beautiful and so green!
We weren’t alone in the woods. We met a couple and their dog, and we noticed that they seemed to be foraging the flowers from the wild garlic. Curious, we asked them why they were doing this. They were happy to explain that they were picking the closed flowers of the garlic plants in order to pickle them with some vinegar and olive oil. They said the little woodland was perfect as it was remote and secluded therefore not affected by any polution. The leaves are also great in a homemade pesto.
Excited about having learnt something new, I managed to make a small bag from my tshirt and we started foraging our own bear garlic flowers.
Apparently the name comes from the fact that the brown bears love eating the bulbs and digging up the ground to get at them; they are also a favourite of wild boar.
A wild relative to chives, bear garlic is not to be confused with Lily of the Valley or Colchicum autumnale, which are both toxic and not to be eaten. The flowers do look rather different though when you compare them. However if in doubt, don’t risk it. Do more research and only forage when you’re 100% sure. Or perhaps try and grow your own from seed 😉
It grows between April and June, in shaded woodland areas. They like humidity so are mostly found close to a water source.
Wild garlic is known to be more concentrated in nutrients than regular garlic, mostly as it grows wildly. Technically, you can eat all of the plant, from the bulb, the stems, the leaves and the flowers! However, it is best to leave the bulbs alone to ensure that the plant can grow back the following year. The best thing to do, is to not pull out the roots, instead, just pick the leaves one at the time, so that you have just enough for your need.
Bear Garlic Leaves
The leaves can be collected and washed, in order to be used in cooking. They have a lovely strong garlicky taste, the trick is not to cook them for long as they will lose they flavour and appeal. They should be kept moist and not allowed to dry out. So make sure you add them right at the end of the recipe.
You can also eat them raw, once washed, and can be used in a similar way than fresh spinach leaves. It is best to pick the leaves young if using them raw. Whether in an omelette, in a salad or on a pizza, you can eat them on anything where you’d like to add a garlicky twist.
You can also add a few leaves to olive oil to infuse it with a garlic taste.
If you don’t plan on using the leaves straight away after picking them, you can place them in a glass of water so that the stems of the leaves are in the water, and place the glass in the fridge. If you change the water for fresh water every day, you may be able to keep them for up to a week.
Bear Garlic Flowers
The flowers look amazing in a salad and also have a garlic flavour. We tasted them raw when out yesterday, and can confirm they have a really strong garlic taste!
We were advised to also pickle them, as you would gerkins, in a little vinegar and olive oil. These can be served in apero (French pre dinner snack usually served with wine). In this case, you want to pick them before the flower has opened up, and is still in a bulb like appearance. We’re trying this at I write, so will see how we get on with it.
The Joys of Bear Garlic
Overall, Bear Garlic not only looks beautiful in its’ natural, wild habitat, but also works wonders in our kitchen with a wild range of recipes. As a true French person, I absolutely love garlic, so finding another (strong) source of garlic is always a joy!