It's wild garlic season in the UK, and we're big fans of this pungent stuff. It's probably the easiest foragers' plant to safely identify and can be found in woodlands across the country until about May, when it starts to die back.
This wonderful native herb has some excellent health benefits and combines very well with fattier meats such as pork or lamb. This excerpt from the website Eat Yourself Brilliant explains the science behind the health advantages of this wild food.
Allium ursinum also known as ramson or wild garlic has a long tradition of medicinal use in many different countries, with reported anti fungal, antimicrobial, antiseptic, anti inflammatory, cytotoxic, antioxidant, expectorant, vasodilatory and cardio-protective effects. It is also used as a tonic for digestion; easing colic, treating loss of appetite and curing indigestion. However, despite this wide use scientific studies on its nutrient composition, pharmacological activity and therapeutic effect have until now been rare. Recently though several studies have published, particularly from Eastern Europe and these show many exciting possibilities.
Wild garlic is common in the UK and can be found growing in most woodlands, particularly in the damper parts and often with bluebells. It is found from March to May and is easily identified by the pungent garlic smell. The species name ursinum comes from the Latin ursus meaning bear. Folk tales commonly linked wild garlic to bears, which were meant to gorge on the leaves as they woke from hibernation in spring. All parts of the plant can be eaten but the leaves and flowers are most commonly used.
The distinct smell of the garlic and onion family is due to the presence of sulphur-based compounds, particularly glutamyl peptides and sulfoxides. The exact profile of compounds and metabolites each plant contains has been found to be highly variable on the area grown and time of harvest, but the highest amounts are generally found in the leaves from March and April before flowering and in the bulbs late August / September. In addition to the sulfoxides, particularly where the foliage is damaged, a number of volatile secondary metabolites may be present. These metabolites are particularly important to the value and taste of wild garlic in cooking, especially the thiosulfinates.
As well as the sulphur-containing compounds wild garlic is a good source of phenolic compounds and flavonoids, particularly kaempferol derivatives and also contains steroidal glycosides, lectins, fructans and fatty acids including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Wild garlic is also a particularly good source of adenosine containing over 20x that in standard garlic.
The amount of research in humans is still limited and most of the studies have used rats or human cells in culture. However, the results have been good, suggesting that many of wild garlic traditional uses can be supported. Extracts of wild garlic leaf have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties, to lower blood pressure, decrease insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol, inhibit platelet aggregation and increase membrane fluidity, all of which are beneficial in cardiovascular disease.
Extracts from leaves, stems and flowers have also been founds to inhibit the proliferation of human cancer cell lines including breast, lung, prostate, colon, lymphomas and neuroblasts. Suggesting there may be benefit in fighting cancer. Wild garlic Kaempferols also act as a chemopreventive agents, inhibiting the formation of cancer cells. In both these cases wild garlic was seen to have greater potency than traditional cultivated garlic.
Wild garlic has also been proved to be anti-bacterial and anti-fungal and is successfully used to treat yeast-related infections and normalise gut flora.
Many of the phytochemicals in wild garlic have be shown to be potent antioxidants.
There have not been any strong studies that specifically look at performance but in theory wild garlic’s anti-inflammatory, vasodilatory and antioxidant properties could make it ergogenic….. Normal garlic taken 5h before intense exercise has been widely shown to increase blood fluidity and oxygen/nutrient delivery to working muscles and improve endurance.
But remember wild garlic’s high adenosine content? This maybe a problem. Adenosine is a purine nucleotide that works as both an inhibitory neurotransmitter and a neuromodulator. It has a critical roll in energy transfer as a component of tri- and di- phosphate (ATP / ADP) and in signalling as adenosine mono phosphate (cAMP) but its primary roll is actually thought to be neuroprotective, promoting even heart rhythm/oxygen delivery, suppressing high brain arousal and inducing sleep. It does this by suppressing serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and glutamate. Some of these will be familiar as they have been identified as performance enhancing….. which suggests adenosine may not be a good thing to have in the diet before competition. One way caffeine is known to work – suppressing fatigue, is by clogging adenosine receptors preventing adenosine switching off the ‘aroused state’. Strangely though some studies have still found that adenosine does promote performance and it’s been shown to help memory but no studies have been done specifically on wild garlic adenosine and performance. Adenosine has been shown to enter the blood stream from the diet and to cross the blood brain barrier. Perhaps there could be a significant benefit during recovery?
Taken from: http://www.eatyourselfbrilliant.co.uk/
How to use wild garlic
We had a recent cooking session at Ethical Butcher HQ with Michelin-starred chef Adam Gray, who cooked up this simple recipe with a pork rump steak.
How to ferment an excess of wild garlic
Since wild garlic has a relatively short season and wilts quite quickly after picking, it can be preserved and enhanced by a lacto ferment.
Lacto fermenting is controlled fermentation in a saline environment that allows only lactobacillus bacteria to grow, using the carbohydrates in the vegetables as food and producing lactic acid, which preserves the ferment. This works because the bad bacteria that would poison us can't live in the salty environment, and those that survive are very good for us, helping populate our gut with probiotics.
All you need for a lacto ferment is the vegetable or herb you're fermenting and some salt; nature takes care of the rest. The culture or bacteria starter is present on your hands, in the air and on the veg, so there's no need to use a starter or any kind of inoculation.
To make a wild garlic ferment, start by weighing your foraged garlic leaves.
Chop the leaves into 1-inch pieces with a sharp knife and put back into the bowl.
Add 2% fine table salt by weight; in this example 2% of 350g equates to 7g salt.
Mash the salt into the garlic leaves in the bowl by hand.
As you mix and squeeze the leaves to incorporate the salt, some moisture will be released – keep this in the bowl.
Transfer the mixture with the liquid into a sterilised jar. You can sterilise the jar with boiling water or in a low oven (at least 100ºC) for 20 minutes.
Press the leaf mixture into the jar, trying to remove any air bubbles as we're looking for an anaerobic fermentation (meaning it happens without oxygen).
If the tops of the leaves aren't completely submerged in the liquid, make up more brine at 2% by adding 10g salt to 500ml water and top up the mixture until everything is submerged.
Now for the most important stage. Cover the surface so no oxygen can get in and allow the unfriendly bacteria to grow. We've done this using a freezer bag partially filled with water to weigh down the mix in the jar and create an airtight seal on the top surface.
Allow the mixture to ferment for at least a week – when it's ready you should see bubbles rising to the surface of your ferment. At this point you can start sampling some of the wild garlic to see if it's right for you. It should taste slightly fizzy and still retain a good amount of crunch.
The longer you leave your wild garlic to ferment, the more sour it will become. You can leave it to ferment for up to three weeks. When you're happy with the taste of your ferment, either remove the weight and tighten the lid or, if you’ve made a larger batch, decant into smaller sterilised jars, close the lids tight and refrigerate.
How to tell if it's gone wrong
If you notice anything like a putrid smell, sliminess, a funky colour, or black or white mould, the ferment has spoiled and should not be eaten – it must be discarded and the jar sterilised. Don't be too disheartened if this happens; that's nature. Reasons for spoilage could be air getting in, not enough salt or too warm an environment for the fermentation.
How to use your fermented wild garlic
You might be wondering how to eat your fermented wild garlic. The flavour will be wonderfully sour, rich, herbal and garlicky all at the same time. There really is no single answer for how to use it: you could treat it like a condiment or pickle, use it to season cooked fatty meats such as steaks or even burgers, add to salad dressing, try with cheeses, smoked fish or grilled vegetables – however you like.
Why it's good for you
A number of health benefits are associated with fermentation. In fact, fermented foods are often more nutritious than their unfermented form.
Here are the key health benefits of fermented foods.
Improves Digestive Health
The probiotics produced during fermentation can help restore the balance of friendly bacteria in your gut and may alleviate some digestive problems
Evidence suggests that probiotics can reduce uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common digestive disorder
One 6-week study in 274 adults with IBS found that consuming 4.4 ounces (125 grams) of yogurt-like fermented milk daily improved IBS symptoms, including bloating and stool frequency
What’s more, fermented foods may also lessen the severity of diarrhea, bloating, gas, and constipation For these reasons, adding fermented foods to your diet may be useful if you regularly experience gut issues.
Boosts Your Immune System
The bacteria that live in your gut have a significant impact on your immune system.
Due to their high probiotic content, fermented foods can give your immune system a boost and reduce your risk of infections like the common cold
Consuming probiotic-rich foods may also help you recover faster when you’re sick
Additionally, many fermented foods are rich in vitamin C, iron, and zinc — all of which are proven to contribute to a stronger immune system
Makes Food Easier to Digest
Fermentation helps break down nutrients in food, making them easier to digest than their unfermented counterparts.
For example, lactose — the natural sugar in milk — is broken down during fermentation into simpler sugars — glucose and galactose
As a result, those with lactose intolerance are generally fine eating fermented dairy like kefir and yogurt
Plus, fermentation helps break down and destroy antinutrients — such as phytates and lectins — which are compounds found in seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes that interfere with the nutrient absorption
Therefore, consuming fermented beans or legumes like tempeh increases the absorption of beneficial nutrients, making them more nutritious than unfermented alternatives
Other Potential Benefits
Studies have shown that fermented foods may also promote:
- Mental health: A few studies have linked the probiotic strains Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum to a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Both probiotics are found in fermented foods
- Weight loss: While more research is needed, some studies have found links between certain probiotic strains — including Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus gasseri — and weight loss and decreased belly fat
- Heart health: Fermented foods have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Probiotics may also modestly reduce blood pressure and help lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol