Before you set off there are a few foraging guidelines to keep in mind to avoid any injury to yourself or the natural habitats you encounter.
Wild garlic is a big player in our kitchen, it’s a wonderfully versatile plant with a nice gentle garlicky hum. It’s super easy to substitute into most recipes and it’s just bloody delicious too!
The brilliance of lacto fermentation is that all you need is two ingredients, the star of the show in this case wild garlic and then some salt… see easy. You can absolutely add in extra flavours and seasonal twists, fish sauce for depth, gochujang for a kimchi vibe, other wild herbs and spices. The fermentarium world really is your lobster!
The simplest form of lacto fermentation is to create a salt water brine and submerge your chosen food into it. For our ferment we are going to create a brine by drawing out the moisture held within the wild garlic using salt.
Adding salt to our plant matter and giving it a good old massage will hopefully draw out enough salty garlicky brine that it will submerge the garlic once weighed down. We can if we need to top up the brine with a little filtered water.
The critical part of the recipe is the quantity of salt. A 2% brine is the perfect environment for most firm vegetables and plant matter to ferment without them becoming overly salty. However cucumbers and peppers which are more prone to moulding will need a higher percentage of salt between 3% and 5%.
The term lacto comes from lactic acid which is produced when the bacteria starts to break down the sugar held within the vegetable. The specific bacteria we wish to thrive is lactobacillus. This is found on the surface of leaves, vegetables and fruits and occurs naturally around us but also within us too!
The lactobacillus feeds on the sugar in the fermenting food to turn these sugars into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This forms an acidic environment for the fermentation to take place whilst removing the oxygen held within the jar. The lactic acid produced is a natural preservative and will inhibit the growth of any harmful bacteria.
Wild Garlic Leaves
Salt – 2% weight of the wild garlic leaves
Wash your wild garlic under cold running water, drain well and remove as much water as possible.
A few goes around a salad spinner works a treat.
You can if you like leave the wild garlic whole but I prefer to give them a little chop to make them easier to use when they have finished fermenting.
Roughly chop the wild garlic and weigh the leaves.
Take the weight of the leaves and calculate 2% of the weight in salt.
In a large bowl add the salt to the garlic and massage to release all the juice. Massage for 5 - 10 minutes until liquid runs freely when squeezed between the hands. Weigh down the leaves with some form of weight (a plate that with a jar full of water works a treat) and leave for a couple of hours to release more liquid.
Using clean hands gently place the wild garlic into a large sterilised jar.
Use a wooden spoon to tamp down the wild garlic trying to push out any trapped air bubbles.
Top up with the rest of the brine making sure to completely cover the leaves.
Weigh down the wild garlic with some form of weight - A slightly smaller jar that fits inside your fermentation jar or a zip-lock bag filled with any leftover brine and water. Anything that keeps the wild garlic submerged. Cover with some muslin and a loosely screw on the lid.
Allow to ferment for at least a week, you should see bubbles rising to the surface of you ferment. After a week you can start sampling some wild garlic to see if the taste is 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. Once happy with 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.
Unopened jars of well fermented product should last quite happily in the fridge for up to a year.
Whilst you wait for your ferment, why not head back out into the wild to pick more wild garlic and have a go at some of the recipes below.
Don’t let your lacto fermented experiments scare you away. If they’ve gone bad you’ll know about it. Any ferment you suspect is bad should be discarded and the jar sanitised.
If your ferment has gone bad you will smell it as soon as you open the jar. A ferment that smells putrid is the biggest indicator that your ferment has gone bad even if it looks fine.
Any funky coloured or black moulds. These may indicate that the environment you are fermenting in is too warm or that a bad form of bacteria beat your lactobacillus to it.
Slimy or discolored ferments may be a sign that there wasn’t enough salt in the brine. Discard the ferment and use a brine with a 1% higher percentage of salt.
If your ferment looks and smells perfect but tastes spoilt then chances are that it is.
Always forage small amounts for personal use, leaving adequate produce for animals and insects to indulge on, as well as other foragers!
Only eat something if you are 100% sure of its identification, as some plants can make you unwell, or worse still – some are even deadly. Books are very helpful for this; one of our favourites is ‘Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland‘, ‘Food for Free‘ and ‘The Forager’s Handbook‘. Websites and social media groups can also be helpful, but make sure you trust the source entirely before you eat your finds
Only forage from plants that have produced plenty of fruit as the plant depends on this to reproduce.
Choose carefully how you access your foraging finds. Avoid crushing plants and habitats underfoot whilst hunting for wild foods.
Avoid taking too much twig and never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Your foraging kit should include – a small legal carry knife or secateurs, gloves to protect your hands from plants that may sting (the humble nettle) and thorns, and a basket/container or three. Don’t forget to wear long trousers and long-sleeved tops to protect your arms and legs from natural nasties such as ticks (find out more about ticks here.)
Remember to insert link
Short bio on photographer