The Ultimate Wild Garlic Pesto Recipe

Wild garlic pesto with pasta

Every spring, as soon as we spot our first daffodil, we take a pilgrimage to our favourite foraging spot with the thought of a refreshing wild garlic pesto ringing in our ears. We usually find we need to wait another excruciating week or two until the leaves are of a suitable size to harvest, but it's a fast-growing plant so that's no great hardship.

What is wild garlic?
Also called ramson, wild garlic is a perennial, flowering plant whose official name is allium ursinum. It grows to a maximum size of around 50cm and can be found all over the UK. The leaves can be picked from February to June, although the root bulb can be found all year round if you know where to look.

How to identify wild garlic
You need to look for bright green, broadly elliptical and pointed leaves that smell unmistakably of garlic when you rub them between your fingers. If you stumble across a big enough crop, you'll find yourself enveloped in a heady garlic aroma that is impossible to ignore.

Wild garlic leaves

Unfortunately, there are a few poisonous imposters, with Lily of the valley and Lords-and-ladies being the most common. Luckily, these don't smell at all of garlic, so if you're unsure you have identified it correctly, use the sniff test and wash your hands thoroughly if the garlic smell doesn't materialise.

When to pick wild garlic
The wild garlic season lasts from February to June, although we recommend picking the leaves near the beginning of the season whilst the leaves are not yet fully grown (February to April). When the plant produces its stunning, edible white flowers towards the end of the season (May to June) you may find that the leaves start to develop a coarser flavour and can begin to taste bitter.

Wild garlic flowers

Where to find wild garlic
Unlike some berries, nuts or plants that require a trip to the countryside, wild garlic can be found even in relatively built-up areas. It particularly likes damp, shady areas, meaning small woodlands, parks, riverbanks and cemeteries can all be home to a generous smattering of this quintessentially English plant.

How to pick wild garlic
The number one rule with any kind of foraging is to never pick more than a third of the available crop. There's nothing worse than seeing a huge patch of ground completely decimated, possibly causing long term damage in the process. Plus - and it's a very big plus - you want to leave some of those plants alone because later in the season they will start to flower. These firework-looking flowers make an awesome garnish thanks to their stunning petals and mild garlicky taste.

Washed wild garlic leaves

How to use wild garlic
Our all-time favourite way to use wild garlic is, predictably, to make a pesto, although there are plenty of other dishes where it can make a guest appearance. We particularly like using it to make a gourmet chicken Kyiv (if that's not a complete misnomer), a wild garlic and stinging nettle soup and the leaves also work well in quiches.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

Wild garlic* 100g
Hazelnuts 50g
Parmesan 50g
Olive oil 125g
Lemon juice to taste
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

* Whilst some people will very happily use this much, we think it makes wild garlic pesto too strong and slightly bitter, so we recommended substituting at least some of this amount with another herb. Parsley works well if you like a peppery kick, whilst basil will add some sweetness. Have a play and see what works for you.

Thoroughly wash the wild garlic leaves in plenty of cold, running water. If you are planning to eat your pesto the same day, simply dry the leaves by blotting with paper towels and you're ready to go.

If you plan to store your wild garlic pesto for several days, we advise blanching the leaves in boiling water for 30-seconds, transferring them to an ice-bath to halt the cooking process and blotting them dry. This process will slow down the rate at which the leaves turn a dull grey colour over time.

Place the wild garlic along with the parsley, nuts and Parmesan into a food processor and blend to your ideal consistency.

Transfer everything to a clean bowl and stream in the olive oil, mixing constantly.

Add a dash of lemon, a little salt and pepper and give the sauce a taste. Adjust the seasoning to your liking and enjoy your garlicky creation stirred through a piping hot bowl of pasta.