We all love garlic. We love it, why we don’t like the smell (especially if someone has eaten it) I will never understand. I have to include jack by the hedge as it is such a great little plant and is found all over the place. It is a great substitute for garlic but I prefer to consider it altogether something different and rather special, as it has such a mild, herbaceous flavour to it. Our ancestors also valued its properties for both medicinal purposes and culinary potential. Early settlers from Europe took it with them to North America and since then, much to their annoyance, it continues to plague the nations gardens and woodlands. The fast food chompers find absolutely no use for it, which is a great shame but inevitably their loss.
Other than wild garlic (Ramsons), this is our other most common form of garlic that grows in the wild. The difference between the two is Ramsons offer up both their leaves and bulbs, the latter being used in much the same way as bulbed garlic, whereas with hedge garlic, only the leaves are worth gathering. The biggest difference is that hedge garlic, when taken into the kitchen, is so much more versatile allowing it to be used in many different ways, as it doesn’t possess the strong flavour and pungent aroma of its wild cousin.
Jack by the hedge is an easy plant to locate, the clue is in its name…hedgerows are your best bet. Once this biennial has colonised an area it spreads like wildfire, so there will be plenty of it. The leaves are deep green in colour and slightly toothed. As you can see in the picture, they have a lovely set of white flowers at the top of the stem, making them simple to identify. They are best found from April to July, sometimes as early as March if there has been a mild winter.
Having used this plant in so many different ways, it’s hard to decide which are my favourite recipes for it, so here are a few of what I would say are the best:
For a good accompliment with lamb take a bunch of hedge garlic leaves and a bunch of mint leaves, chop finely, add some vinegar and sugar, mix it up and serve as a garlic-mint sauce.
For a great little dip for crudités, simply chop up a good handful of leaves and add to some mayonnaise with a couple of drops of Tabasco.
My personal favourite is to use in hedge garlic in a salad to add a hint of garlic. This works best with a few dandelion leaves for bitterness, rocket for a peppery tang, sorrel for a lemony bite and some basic lettuce to add freshness and bulk. Just drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.