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Where I live on the river Esk system (where I’m confined to during the 2020 Covid-19 lock-down) then I have been taking my daily exercise along the local rivers. Sometimes walking along the river, as the water is so low now, much to the surprise of some of the cows in the fields.

The banks have burst into life with this spell of the warm weather and a foraging favourite has re-emerged – wild garlic. I see a few my neighbours wandering about with bags of green, fresh smelling leaves and imagine them heading home to ponder how to transform their pickings into various dishes and condiments. This has been my tradition for celebrating the start of spring and good filler for what gardeners call the ‘hungry period’ – March to May, when crops are sparse, and you’ve run out of your potatoes.

While not the carby-comfort of potato then it is a delightful taste and a versatile ingredient. However, I have changed my habitats in the last few years having studied plants a bit more closely. The traditional ‘Wild garlic’ (see photos) or Latin name Allium ursinum is distinctive for its wider, dark green leaf and spikey floret of white flowers. As tasty as this plant is then I have begun to leave it in place, as it an important ecological plant. It is an indicator of ancient woodlands, that have suffered little disturbance- they flourish around lesser celandine, primrose and the delicately beautiful wood violet. They also support a rather handsome hoverfly, called the Ramsons Hoverfly (Portevinia maculata)- which are fairly rare in the south of Scotland.

I have instead turned my picking fingers to the Few-flowered leek, while not as tasty as the wild garlic, it is however fiercely invasive and I can see it slowly squeezing out the wild garlic from the riparian woodland. It is glaucous green, with much thinner leaves and has a very distinct onion/garlic smell. It is an invasive species originating from the mountains of Turkmenistan, that was introduced to an estate in Edinburgh in 1823, escaped and then went on a countryside rampage.

It is prolific at spreading with each flower producing a wee bulb that drops and rolls into a new position. This flowers earlier that the wild garlic, and we are probably just coming to the end of the season for the leaves now, but the flowers are still just as good in a salad or on top of soup. For those furiously lock-down baking, then it is good in a savoury scone or breakfast muffin. Equally the bulbs, while fiddlier to collect, can be pickled like adorable mini-onions or sautéed to add a kick to a cheese and onion loaf of bread.

I encourage you all to shift your mitts to this invasive species, and join me in eating to deplete its numbers! Maybe if we’re really hungry we can enjoy our wild garlic population, once its recovered again, in a few years.

Here are some recipes to get you going:

  • 100g few-flowered leek leaves washed and dried
  • 50g walnuts toasted
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil (+ little extra for the jars)
  • 30g parmesan grated
  • salt & pepper to taste

1/ Toast walnuts in a dry pan for couple of minutes until fragrant but not coloured.

2/ Blend the toasted until sand like in consistency. Add few-flowered leek and blend to a paste.

3/ Very slowly blend in the olive oil (trickle it in) which will help to emulsify and loosen up the garlic & walnut paste.

4/ Add grated cheese, salt & pepper and give your mixture one last quick blitz. 

5/ Transfer to jars & cover with extra drizzle of olive oil to help and preserve your pesto in the fridge.

Wild garlic and potato soup is a good one from our ecologist Iain. 

1/ Dice 2-3 large tatties into cubes (fry them hard in butter and/or oil to get colour and flavour). 2/ Add about a pint of veg/chicken stock. 

3/ Bring to the boil then add large handful of coarsely chopped few-flowered leek for a minute or so (so as not to overcook).

4/ Blitz till smooth.