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 with an official name of 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 and are the star ingredient in wild garlic pesto. Some people use the bulb too, and this can be found 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 mistake.

Wild garlic leaves

Unfortunately, there are a few plants that can be mistaken for wild garlic, with lily-of-the-valley and lords-and-ladies being the most common. If you are unsure of what plant you have stumbled upon, press the leaves between your fingers and give them a smell. If you don't get a garlic aroma, then discard the leaves, wash your hands thoroughly, and move on.

When to pick wild garlic
The wild garlic season lasts from February to June, although we recommend picking the leaves nearer the beginning of the season (February to April) while the leaves are still juvenile. When the plant produces its stunning, edible white flowers towards the end of the season (May to June), you may find that the leaves have started to turn bitter.

Wild garlic flowers

Where can I find wild garlic? 
Unlike some berries, nuts, or plants that require a trip to the countryside, wild garlic can be found in relatively built-up areas. The plants particularly like damp, shady areas, meaning small woodlands, parks, riverbanks, and cemeteries can all be home to a generous supply 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, you want to leave some of those plants alone because later in the season they will start to flower. These flowers that look like mini fireworks make an incredible 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 to make pesto, but there are plenty of other dishes where it can make a guest appearance. We particularly like using it to make a gourmet chicken Kiev or a stinging nettle soup.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

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

* While some people happily use this much, it can make the pesto too garlicky. We therefore recommended substituting at least some of this amount with another herb. Parsley works well if you like a peppery kick, while 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 them with paper towels.

If you plan to keep your wild garlic pesto for 24 hours or more, we advise blanching the leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds and transferring them to an ice bath to halt the cooking process. This will slow down the rate at which the leaves turn a dull grey colour.

Place the wild garlic along with the parsley, nuts, and Parmesan in 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 juice, 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.