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Wild Garlic Pesto

PISTOU…or pesto?

Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in northern Italy, it has always been prepared with crushed garlic, basil, and pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, including Fiore Sardo, a cheese made from sheep's milk.

Pistou is a basil/olive oil/garlic condiment used in French cuisine. The main difference is the pine nuts – which are used in the Italian version and not in the French. The French Pistou uses Italian cheese as the recipe originates from Nice in Provence and it shares a lot of the gastronomical traits of other Mediterranean countries: using olive oil instead of butter, including more vegetables and herbs than in the stereotypical rich & creamy French food.

Both pesto and pistou get their name from the latin pestare which means to pound or crush.

Traditionally, both sauces were made by “pounding” the ingredients together using a mortar and pestle.

Well this weekend we decided to enroll our grand daughters, Marley and Lola, to make some wild garlic pesto.

First, the foraging!

Foraging is a great way to understand nature and to appreciate all it has to offer. It is so therapeutic, it brings you out, it clears your mind, it re-connects you with nature. And no better pleasure than eat something you've found in the wild!

Spring is the perfect time to go foraging for wild garlic as the season starts in late winter and lasts until the end of Spring. With its fresh, garlicky smell wild garlic is an unmistakable scent in woodlands. Wild garlic loves shady and damp conditions. So you can often find it at the entrance of caves such as White fathers’ or Cradle hole caves or in the Cladagh Glen. We decided to go at the foot of the Magho cliffs and take a dander along the shore near the Magho jetty.

The floor was carpeted with wild garlic: its green, pointed leaves and white flowers easy to identify. The leaves and flowers are edible. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and can be blended to make a delicious pesto to add to pasta, salads or soups.

Back to the house...we pursued our mission: making pesto!

So we combined our ingredients: wild garlic leaves, walnuts (we had no pine nuts!!), lemon, olive oil and grated cheese....and tasted plenty to make sure the pesto was to our taste!

The reward...a nice sandwich of seeded bread, pesto, goat cheese and cherry tomatoes. Delicious!

Wild garlic recipes

Wild garlic is a really versatile ingredient. If you want to enjoy the pure taste of wild garlic you can treat it like spinach and toss it in some olive oil over a low heat. The wilted leaves are perfect in an omelette or with scrambled eggs. You could even wrap a fillet of fish in wild garlic leaves and pop in the oven to bake. The leaves are much milder than standard garlic so they won't overpower the fish.

I have just found a lovely recipe from Clare McQuillan: wild garlic and cheddar rolls. I can't wait to try it.

Of course Wild garlic is not only a beautiful ingredient in food, it has health benefits too!

  • It was used traditionally throughout Europe as a spring tonic due to its blood-purifying properties.

  • Wild garlic is also thought to lower cholesterol and blood-pressure, which in turn helps to reduce the risk of diseases such as heart attack or stroke.

Other uses for wild garlic:

  • The leaves were once boiled and the resulting liquid used as a disinfectant.

  • It's smell is said to repel cats.


It can be easily confused, prior to flowering, with the Lily of the Valley which has very similar leaves. But its leaves are poisonous, thankfully wild garlic has an unmistakable smell !!.


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