Bear's leek offers a taste of spring
One of the first of the seasonal herbs to make its way to German tables by way of farmer’s markets, supermarket shelves or trips to the forest with scissors in hand is Bärlauch, a long green leaf with a flavor not far off from that of garlic. Fans of the stuff tout not only its taste but its health benefits. It’s rich in vitamin C, offers antibacterial and antibiotic properties, and helps to alleviate high blood pressure.
Bärlauch, which translates literally to bear’s leek, gets it name from the fact that bears are eager consumers of the plants’ bulbs, as are wild boar. The pungent herb springs up in the humus-rich soils of shady forests throughout Central and Northern Europe from early to mid-March. If you happen to walk or cycle past a patch, its garlicky smell will betray its presence. (Bärlauch’s distinct look and smell aside, it would never do to pick and consume a bunch without the guidance of an expert in the ways of wild edibles. The plant bears a resemblance to lily of the valley, which is poisonous.)
Like other spring veggies such as asparagus or strawberries, Bärlauch has a distinct season lasting just a few weeks. By the time its white blossoms appear in late April or early May, the plant is no longer consumed.
Once acquired, Bärlauch can be stored in the fridge for a couple days. Wrap it in a damp paper towel and seal it up tight in a zip-lock bag to help it retain its aroma. It can also be frozen, or cut up and covered with olive oil, to which it will lend its taste.
Bärlauch can serve as the base for a quick and tasty pesto. Take several washed and clean leaves, some pine nuts or walnuts, olive oil, salt and a hunk of parmesan cheese, toss it all in the blender, chop, chop and the job’s done. The recipe for Bärlauch butter is even simpler: chop the leaves and blend them into slightly softened butter.
To pick your own Bärlauch under the eye of an expert, head to Eberbach, a charming town in the Odenwald which bills itself as the capital of Bärlauch. From 10 a.m. April 15, a guided walk (in German) sets off from the tourist information center and takes visitors to places where Bärlauch grows.
The Landschaftspark Friedrich von Gienanth in Eisenberg, about 25 miles northeast of Kaiserslautern, hosts a Baerlauchfest from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 22