Ramsons (Allium ursinum) has a number of other common names but the one you most likely will have heard is ‘wild garlic’. This particular name is self explanatory, given the strong garlic smell given off when the leaves are crushed and helps with identification.
This common resident of deciduous woodlands has been foraged for generations with consumption thought to have many health benefits including blood cleansing. It can easily be found throughout the Tamar Valley.
If you like garlic the chances are you will love foraging for and using this plant. For those slightly less enthusiastic, keep in mind the taste is not as powerful as the smell given off by the plant might suggest. Give it a try. Ramsons, hereafter called wild garlic, is versatile with edible leaves and flowers which can liven up a salad or be the star of recipes such as this pesto.
Foraging wild garlic
First of all be aware wild garlic is related to lily of the valley and the leaves are of similar appearance. However, whereas wild garlic is delicious and nutritious, lily of the valley is poisonous!
A good way to tell the two apart is through the flowers. As can be seen in the photograph, wild garlic has noticeably stalked ball shaped clusters of white flowers, each of which has six quite wide open segments (petals). If it helps, the flowers always remind me of a firework display and the moment a rocket explodes releasing starbursts.
Crushing a leaf will release the garlic smell to confirm matters. Any flowering plants, or areas, having white, bell shaped, ‘nodding’ flowers are best avoided as this could be lily of the valley!
Always remember whenever and whatever you are foraging:
- If you are anything less than 100% sure of what it is you are about to harvest, leave well alone!
- Never take more than what you absolutely need
- Check permissions, bye-laws, protection status and all conditions of entry specified by landowners before foraging
- Where foraging is permissible, only ever pick leaves, fruits and flowers. Never uproot or take entire plants
- Always closely supervise children and novices
For this recipe you will need 100 grams of wild garlic which is almost a colander full.
100g fresh and responsibly foraged wild garlic leaves
65g Pumpkin seeds*
65g Extra mature Cornish Gouda – finely grated*
150ml English cold pressed rapeseed oil*
Juice & Zest of half an unwaxed lemon
Sea salt and black pepper
*Purists can substitute pine nuts for the pumpkin seeds, extra virgin olive oil for the rapeseed oil and parmesan for the gouda if they so wish. However, the pumpkin seeds are more affordable (especially if making a number of batches) and English rapeseed oil is a healthy, good value alternative with lower food miles and supports our farmers.
Also, we prefer the taste of the amazing Cornish Gouda Company’s extra mature cheese any day! It’s an excellent local alternative to parmesan and compliments flavours rather than overpowering them.
- Thoroughly wash and dry the wild garlic leaves. Shaking bunches after washing, dabbing with kitchen towel and or leaving in a warm sunny place all help with drying.
- Rinse, dry, then gently toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan over a medium heat keeping the seeds moving so as to avoid burning. Let them cool before use.
- Blend the wild garlic leaves, cheese, pumpkin seeds, lemon zest/juice, salt and pepper in a food processor until finely chopped and mixed.
- Gradually add (and blend in) the oil.
- Taste, further season to your preferences and don’t be afraid to experiment a little by adding some chilli flakes or home grown herbs!
This amount of ingredients makes about 350 grammes of pesto and can be stored in sterilised jars in the fridge or frozen in suitable containers. If the pesto is not going to be used straight away, top the jar or container up with some more oil to help preserve it pending use.
You may find this is thicker than shop bought pesto. I always gently warm the pesto through pasta before serving and make a point of retaining some of the pasta water before draining. That way you can always emulsify the pesto with some of the water to adjust consistency and flavour to suit everyones preferences.