The scent of wild garlic or ramsons Allium ursinum may greet you before you spy it on damp ground and in woods. Its broad, pointed at the tip leaves often mingle with bluebells and earlier in the season, fading snowdrops. The countryside in spring brings to mind Hardy's story of Tess of the d'Urbervilles and the concern that the butter had a funny twang as a result of the cows having dined on the leaves of wild garlic - wild garlic has both wild scent and a pungent flavour.
On South Uist, in the Western Isles, I can pick another member of the allium family, the non native, invasive three cornered leek Allium triquetrum but alas, not ramsons. On the Scottish mainland, the ramson flowers are just appearing, so I suspect that the white umbrella - like flowers are in full bloom in the South of England. I interchange three cornered leeks and ramsons in recipes, but they are not the same plant. The leaf of three cornered leek is narrow and its flowers is white with a green line. In some parts of Britain, East Lothian for sure, you may find few flowered leek Allium paradoxum, or Asian wild onion. This is similar to three cornered leek but as its name suggests it has fewer flowers. It also dons a lighter green stripe. Like three cornered leek however, it is a non native and an invasive pest. Cooking with these plants (and on this occasion, tugging up the roots too) is helpful. The plants form a thick carpet and compete for nutrients with native spring plants such as the primrose. Rosy garlic, another invasive, which is common in the South West of England, has pink flowers. In England and Wales, it is offence to plant Allium paradoxum in the wild - so, if you come across it, why not eat it?
The leaves can be put through a juicer and the bright green juice mixed with oil - don't store this idea. Make it and use it. The flowers can be popped in jar with salt and left to dry somewhere dry and warm to make garlic salt, and the buds can be pickled. Chopped chiffonade style, wild garlic leaves add flavour and colour as you cook.
Wild garlic (invasive or native) leaves are nature's partner to your favourite pesto recipe - simply replace the usual basil and garlic clove with wild garlic leaves. The resulting pesto will be vibrant emerald green and garlicky. I add finely chopped fresh dulse for speckled colour (red) and texture but that's because I live by the seaside. I include fresh seaweed in lots of my cooking. One autumn, I'm hoping to find the hazel trees that a crofter tells me he foraged hazelnuts from, as a child; this would stride towards even greater Hebridean pesto provenance. This spring, I used almonds simply because they were in the store cupboard. The forager learns to improvise and is happy if his or her basket is only half full, be it with ramsons or a non native invader.
Three Cornered Leek and Dulse Pesto (Adapted from a recipe in Seaweed in the Kitchen)
2 large handfuls wild garlic leaves
20g finely grated Parmesan cheese
20g flaked almonds
Handful washed and finely chopped fresh dulse
c150 ml olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Put all of the ingredients except the oil in a food processor and blend briefly. Add oil to blend and make a paste. Season and store in a sterile jam jar. Seal and refrigerate. Use within one week.