Garlic is an awesome plant to grow, for it’s health benefits, and culinary uses. One of the unique parts of garlic is the garlic scapes. These early summer flower stems can take energy away from the garlic bulb. But, harvesting them for use in the kitchen is an awesome use for them. They are packed with garlic flavor, with a texture like green onions, and lots of potential uses.
Garlic scapes are a staple at the Farmers Markets in my area, usually appearing in late June and early July. They are an early harvested part of the garlic crop, and have to be harvested to permit the garlic bulbs to form properly. The scapes are long, green stalks that grow from the center of the garlic plant. They are the garlic’s flower stalk, actually, and if left to grow will form micro-bulblets that can be planted for more garlic plants, but the bulblets have to grow for two years to produce a head of garlic, instead of just one.
I have planted the bulblets from volunteer garlic that formed mature garlic scapes. It’s a fun experiment, and is one of the ways to develop new garlic varieties, as the bulblets often get cross pollinated. Soft-necked garlic does not form scapes, but hardneck garlic does.
Every garlic plant will send up one scape during the course of the growing season. If you miss harvesting a scape, that garlic plant’s bulb will end up being smaller than the bulbs of the plants that had the scapes removed.
Harvesting Garlic Scapes:
Garlic sends up scapes in late spring to early summer. You want to harvest garlic scapes while tender, and before the small blossom bulb near the tip gets too large. Usually the scapes become obvious when they are six to eight inches in length, and have a slight thickening where the blossom part will grow.
Scapes are at their tenderest when under twelve inches in length. They can be snapped off, or cut off, the garlic plant with scissors. Since the scape grows from the center of the plant, you can snap it off at the joining of the last pair of leaves, or cut it if you prefer. The point where you break off the scape will ooze some juice, if you taste it, it will have a very hot, strong, garlic flavor.
You can harvest scapes slowly over a week, or you can harvest all of them from your garlic plants at once. I usually harvest either half the scapes, or all of them at once. It depends on how much time I have to make and freeze pesto that week, or how much time I have in the garden.
I will also double check my garlic plants a week after harvesting the scapes to make sure I didn’t miss any. There always seems to be one to five less mature scapes that I catch on that second check. And even then, there’s usually at least two garlic plants that manage to keep their scapes all summer and give me smaller heads of garlic in the fall.
I like to rinse off my garlic scapes before using them. Then simply patting them dry after the rinse.
Store your harvested and cleaned garlic scapes in an air-tight container in your fridge until you need to use them. If the container is not airtight, the fridge may end up smelling like garlic.
Using Garlic Scapes:
Garlic scapes are stronger in flavor than chives, and have a texture that blends well with green beans, asparagus, and many other vegetables. If you’re growing a ton of garlic, use garlic scapes before they go bad by putting pesto and other dishes in the freezer. If you still have too many and using them up seems impossible, you can always sell excess, or offer them to the food bank, or a food reclaim, before consigning any leftovers to the compost pile. Or use some of the scapes in pest repellent and anti-fungal spray for your garden plants.
There are many different ways to use up this garlicky flavor abundance. You can make delicious garlic scapes pesto, with or without additional basil. You could even make some variations with greens like dandelion, stinging nettle, or orach as well as the garlic focus. Pesto is a nice compliment to hummus, if you like dipping pita bread.
You can use them in soups and stir-fry, the same as you’d use garlic cloves. One or two garlic shoots are often enough for a normal dish of soup or a stir fry, if you really like garlic, than two or three scapes could be used instead. Garlic scapes recipes are easy to design, just remember that one scape is equal to about four cloves of garlic when choosing your other ingredients.
They make a nice stopping on salads, though I would avoid adding other allium family plants to the salad when using them. Chives, scallions, and onions should be used lightly in connection with the garlic scapes, or omitted if you don’t like spicy salads.
I’ve seen them pickled, though find them a bit too spicy for my taste. I like black garlic and roasted or honey fermented garlic more than the green or raw garlic cloves. I like the muting effect that making black garlic, or fermented garlic, has on the allicin in the garlic itself.
You can grill these tasty green shoots with asparagus, or alongside other dishes on your bbq or outdoor grill. Simply dress with a bit of olive oil, and maybe some other seasonings that go well with garlic. The roasted scapes can be turned into a spread or dip after roasting too. Or use them with nasturtiums and other herbs to make garlic scape compound butter.
You can sub in this fresh herb for ramps, or use them as a compliment with leeks and other alliums. Any recipe that calls for ramps can have scapes substituted instead. You can also lacto-ferment them, or turn them into pickles.
Back to You:
What is your favorite way to use garlic scapes? Do you have a favorite recipe, spread, or condiment? Share it in the comments!