With time, certain local traditions become much more of a thing when living abroad in a totally different culture. Foraging for wild garlic in late Spring is exactly one of those unique things we had never been a part of as non-Germans…some things remained foreign to us; especially Germans & their seasonal food obsessions. But it’s that time of year again and the Spring mania is back…this time around, however, we’ve joined the Bärlauch bandwagon!
This wild garlic, also called wood garlic or Bärlauch (bear’s garlic in German) is a wild relative of chives, onions, & leeks, native to Europe. It’s a great source of vitamin C, which is much welcomed after a long Winter, and along with many other qualities that give it anti-bacterial, blood-cleansing, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, & many more valuable properties! It’s a favorite of bears (hence the name) that have just woken up from their Winter slumber & wild boars run around snacking on it, but Germans seem to love it a whole lot more!
This delicate plant prefers protected, moist, shady locations and can usually be found in mixed forests, near waterways. It grows right smack in the middle of the park here in Leipzig, where the Leipziger Auwald provides great bike routes & shaded spaces full of plant fields right now. It really is a sight to see! And since it’s found in such lovely places, gathering Bärlauch straight from the forest ground is a favorite activity for locals around this time of year. Kindergarteners actually go on harvesting missions at least once every Spring. It really grows just about everywhere, from the outskirts of Berlin to the center of Munich’s English Garden.
The plant actually only reaches a height of about 20 to 50 centimeters and gathering is best before it flowers, when it’s at its most aromatic. Collecting is permitted for personal use, with great consideration for the plant – taking only one leaf per plant – and fines of up to 2,500 euros are placed when this noble activity is abused of. In any case, wild garlic can usually be purchased at weekly markets or supermarkets, and every restaurant seems to have an own ode to Bärlauch; with Eberbach considering itself the Bärlauch capital, hosting its annual festival celebrating everything Bärlauch.
As far as edibility goes, the leaves can used as in salads, as an herb, boiled or sautéed as a vegetable, in soup, or as an ingredient for a sauce, a favorite being pesto! The whole plant is edible and it’s actually said to have an advantage over actual garlic – it doesn’t leave the unpleasant typical breath smell either! Some popular local uses for Bärlauch include making Bärlauch Butter, Bärlauch Pesto, Bärlauch Soup, Bärlauch Bread, & Bärlauch Pasta…you name it! We’ll be preparing Bärlauch Quark for the weekend, a delicious super food that makes a perfect topping on almost anything!