Spring is accelerating at a headspinning rate at the moment – every day the countryside looks different. It feels like the overnight raising of turbocharged Chinese megacities, if that’s not too wildly off-beam a simile for lush roadside growth and woodland edges.
I’d spotted a bit of Garlic Mustard around about 10 days ago, and today I went out – to a quiet lane above Ospringe – looking for a good enough supply for tonight’s salad. It was too easy, in fact – no thrill of the chase, just immediate abundance.
Garlic Mustard is a great forage for beginners in particular for at least a couple of reasons. First, its flavour packs a real punch – it really does have both garlicky and mustardy flavours when chewed – and I think new foragers do need the reward of full flavours when they can get them. Second, those beautiful, bevilled leaves are easy to identify. Third, there are apparently no toxic look-a-likes.
Also known as Jack-by-the-Hedge, and a member of the cabbage family, it’s a low-lying plant at this time of year, so soon will be more upright, displaying small white, four-petalled flowers and the leaves coming off a stalk up to a metre high. The River Cottage book says the best time to pick it is just as those flowers appear, after which the flavour is less attractive.
I plucked mine from a roadside bank – I avoid busy roads for foraging because I don’t want to end up ingesting the run-off from heavily trafficked routes. On the other hand, I’m also a bit wary of field edges, as so-called ‘conventionally’ farmed fields seem likely to have been sprayed. This rules out a startling amount of the countryside (in some ways urban foraging was almost easier), but quiet lanes with very low traffic volumes I’m happy to eat my dinner off.
I’m just going to bung these in a salad (chopped to enhance the flavour), but as there’s so much out there at the moment I might explore soon what other recipes are out there, though I suspect salad is the best use for them – though with its garlic flavour, I can see it might make an interesting pesto. Here there’s a suggestion for using the root, which apparently has a horseradish kick and simultaneously distresses and makes junkies of small children. Be aware though that, technically, you need authorisation to uproot this plant, which is a slightly boneheaded rule given its extreme abundance.