Foraging for Wild Garlic

I was brought up by the sea. I’m a com­ic­al swim­mer and a bemused sail­or, but give me a shoreline to walk along and I’m con­tent. It’s the best of both worlds — feet on sol­id ground and eyes on the waves.

For­aging for wild ingredi­ents turns a coastal walk into a glor­i­ous exped­i­tion. Depend­ing on the sea­son there’ll be hand­fuls of plumply purple black­ber­ries, some salty samphire and, if you’re lucky, wild gar­lic leaves and flowers. Take your chil­dren, ask a friend, and between you, you’ll bring home a feast.

This week­end a great friend and I took a walk along a wooded coastal path and gathered enough gar­lic leaves and wild sea spin­ach to make soup and frit­tata, with more left over for risotto, gar­lic flower tem­pura and gar­lic leaf pesto.

Wild gar­lic flour­ishes in the shady wood­land that hugs our wilder coast­line. Unlike wild mush­rooms which have a sin­is­ter way of pre­tend­ing to be friendly when they’re psychot­ic mur­der­ers, wild gar­lic leaves are cheer­ily, perkily, reli­ably deli­cious. The plant may resemble pois­on­ous lily of the val­ley, but you need only bury your nose in it to be envel­oped in clouds of reas­sur­ingly pun­gent gar­licky fra­grance.

Sea beet is anoth­er reli­able friend that bursts in flor­id clumps from the most inhos­pit­able-look­ing pebbly beaches. It resembles wild green facial hair erupt­ing from a stub­bly chin and tastes very like spin­ach, but it has more sweet­ness and less sulky mud­di­ness.

Sea beet and gar­lic leaves com­bine to make the most deli­cious and nour­ish­ing frit­tata, while a com­bin­a­tion of wild gar­lic and water­cress makes the kind of soup that would for­ti­fy the wear­i­est trav­el­ler.


Serves 4

  • 200g wild gar­lic leaves
  • 100g water­cress
  • 2 medi­um floury pota­toes, diced
  • 1 medi­um onion
  • 2 table­spoons olive oil
  • 1 litre veget­able stock

Sweat the onion in the olive oil until it’s soft, but not brown. Add the potato, sea­son and stir briefly before adding the stock. Cook for around fif­teen minutes until the potato is soft. Add the gar­lic leaves and water­cress and sim­mer for no more than five minutes. You want to pre­serve the start­ling green col­our without tres­passing into the khaki zone.

Tip the soup into a food pro­cessor and whizz until smooth. Check the season­ing and serve with gar­lic flowers which are deli­cious in fla­vour.



Serves 6

  • 1 large hand­ful each of wild gar­lic leaves and sea beet
  • 200g chest­nut mush­rooms
  • 2 medi­um onions
  • 4 table­spoons olive oil
  • 125g ricotta
  • 100g parmes­an, grated
  • 8 eggs

Pre­heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Blanch the gar­lic and sea beet leaves in boil­ing water for a gen­er­ous minute until wil­ted and bright green. Plunge the leaves into cold water to stop cook­ing. Once cold, wring them out as though you were dry­ing a tow­el and slice coarsely.

Using a large, non-stick fry­ing pan that you can put in the oven later, saute the onions in 2 table­spoons of the olive oil. Once they’re soft and start­ing to turn golden add the mush­rooms. Saute until the mush­rooms are brown and soft. Take the pan off the heat.

Beat the eggs with a fork, add 50g of the parmes­an and all of the ricotta and mix well. Sea­son.

Drape the blanched, chopped leaves over the mush­rooms and onions in the pan. Pour the egg and cheese mix­ture over the top, mak­ing sure that the leaves are sub­merged. Place the fry­ing pan in the oven for 15 minutes until the top of the frit­tata is nicely brown. Allow to cool a little and then tip the frit­tata out onto a plate. Grate the remain­ing 50g of parmes­an over the top and the remain­ing 2 table­spoons of olive oil. Serve with a green salad and some new pota­toes.

I love everything about the sea­side — from the wild shorelines of Orkney to the brash oddit­ies of Bournemouth. Just don’t ask me to swim in it, sail on it or surf through it. I will though, at a pinch, paddle in it.

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30 thoughts on “Foraging for Wild Garlic

  1. I really think this is your best post yet Charlie. The col­ours of the green gar­lic and the sea beat and the tur­quoise of the sea blend so well. Fant­ast­ic, truly.

    • What praise. Thank you very much, Boin­sey — I’m touched. I hope you get a chance to try wild gar­lic. Being both deli­cious and free, it seems like magic.

  2. I love the sea, one of the joys of liv­ing in Angus is that we have sea and glens,foraging is deli­ciously var­ied. My hus­band has just taken over the SUMP (makes me smile too — South Uist Med­ic­al Prac­tice) where I found sea kale…so excit­ing. We have wild gar­lic in the woods behind the Angus house; I’m told it was planted in drive­ways of Scot­tish coun­try houses, easy access without the ‘stinki­ness’ ? Who knows. I love the idea of for­aging it by the sea. A lovely blog and your pho­to­graphs are fab­ulous.

    • Hi Fi and thank you for tak­ing the time to leave a com­ment. Your mes­sage coin­cided with the dis­cov­ery from Charlie Hicks on Twit­ter that sea kale is now being grown and sold com­mer­cially. Until now it’s been almost impossible to find. No won­der you were excited to find it in Angus. I didn’t know about Scot­tish houses and their impromptu drive­way gar­lic patches — how intriguing.

  3. I recog­nise your lovely walk! You were a stones throw or two from my home. I was on the main­land this week­end though or I would prob­ably have bumped into you, as that is one of our favour­ite walks. Love the smell of the wild gar­lic as we pass by. I still need to make the crum­pets, but haven’t got the spe­cial rings to cook them in yet.

    • What an extraordin­ary coin­cid­ence, Chris. I was stay­ing with great friends on the island. I got there late at night and when I opened the blind the fol­low­ing morn­ing my jaw clanged onto the floor at the beauty of the views.

    • The drift­wood on that beach is beau­ti­ful, although hot, white sand sounds very appeal­ing too, Sally.

  4. Anoth­er crack­er. Great pho­tos — very evoc­at­ive of place and the mac­ros have lovely col­our. Recipes, as always, slightly unusu­al and look deli­cious. Text ditto, if text can be deli­cious. Triple whammy of the suc­cess­ful kind.

    • I love the idea of deli­cious text — thanks Jakey. If you have any wild gar­lic grow­ing near you I recom­mend it highly.

  5. Sea beet — nev­er heard of it! But as a huge fan of for­aging (well, as far as this is pos­sible in Zone 3 in Lon­don!) I would love to find some to try. Love the sea­side snaps, espe­cially the one of the tops of the wooden posts among the pebbles — just gor­geous!

    • I don’t think ‘sea beet’ is a very good term for it really. ‘Wild spin­ach’ is much more accur­ate a descrip­tion, both of its taste and of the way it wilts when cooked. But ‘sea beet’ it is. And it’s very plen­ti­ful, unlike elu­sive sea kale.

  6. Beau­ti­ful pho­tos, whim­sic­al writ­ing that made me smile. And fas­cin­at­ing! Who knew? Now when we next go to Brit­tany I must ask my expert hus­band and friends if we can for­age! I grew up next to the ocean but have nev­er really been a friend. But our beach wasn’t as wild and romantic­ally pretty — our was scorch­ing white sand, scut­tling sand­pipers, the occa­sion­al sting­ing jelly­fish and too many surfers. But lull me home for that amaz­ing frit­tata!

    • I do long the sound of your child­hood beach, Jam­ie. Not sure about the scut­tling sand­pipers though or the jelly­fish for that mat­ter. But I bet you didn’t have to wear wel­lies, gloves and a woolly hat like I did.
      It was such a sat­is­fy­ing day and the spoils were deli­cious. I’d love to know if you find the same treas­ures in Brit­tany.

    • Find­ing wild gar­lic while tak­ing your chil­dren to school sounds won­der­ful, Urvashi. I hope your girls enjoy it too. My chil­dren loved both the frit­tata and the soup.

  7. Lovely pho­tos and fas­cin­at­ing post. We live by the shore yet have nev­er for­aged there. At the most we’ve picked up sharks teeth and scal­lop shells. It is time for us to “go green” and see what edibles we can find near us. I love the idea of tak­ing my girls for­aging. Thank you for sug­gest­ing a mar­velous week­end fam­ily trip.

    • How fas­cin­at­ing to live by an ocean that turns up sharks’ teeth and scal­lop shells. That sounds so exot­ic by com­par­is­on and just as inter­est­ing. I won­der what edible plants you will find. I’d love to know what you dis­cov­er.

  8. What a lovely post: words and pho­tos and fla­vours of everything in abund­ance. All of it so intox­ic­at­ing. Espe­cially love the shot of the wooden posts in the pebbles and the food looks so good.

    • Thank you, Matt. It was a magic­al day — a grown up ver­sion of those days at the sea­side as a child, when you bring home sea­shells, pebbles and sea­weed for your bed­room.

  9. Beau­ti­ful images, and the col­our of that soup is won­der­ful. I love a bit of for­aging too, but often worry too much. Have been doing a bit of for­aging in my garden, but need to head to the coast as you have inspired me to do.

    • I’m so happy to have inspired you, Mar­cus. I com­pletely agree with you about the appeal of for­aging. Let me know what you find.

  10. I love for­aging for wild gar­lic, rock­et leaves and co. I have to how­ever admit I was unaware that wild gar­lic also grew on coast­lines I was really under the impres­sion they grew in woods/forests. I am now intrigued to know if they taste dif­fer­ent to those I for­age here.

    • I’ve often seen wild gar­lic by the sea, usu­ally amongst the trees on our wilder coast­lines. But this year I saw it grow­ing in the park in the centre of Oxford! I won­der if it would work in a domest­ic garden, although half the fun of it is the for­aging.

      • Hello! I just saw this post. I am cur­rently liv­ing in the Oxford area and am look­ing for places to go for­aging for wild gar­lic, could you please tell me of any places with­in the Oxford­shire are you have found it? much appre­ci­ated.

        • Fun­nily enough I saw some in Oxford’s Uni­ver­sity Parks last year, although I doubt they would wel­come any­one tak­ing a bunch! I’ve always done my col­lect­ing in Dor­set, so I can’t really advise on Oxford­shire I’m afraid.

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