What is Wild Garlic?
The botanical name for Wild garlic is Allium Ursinum, its other common names are; Ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek, and bear’s garlic. This plant grows wild and it is a relative of chives native to Europe and Asia. It is a perennial, as hardy and fast growing as chives. The plant self-seeds and dies back.
It is edible at all stages of growth but, unlike domestic garlic, it is the leaves, rather than the bulbs, that are valued. The bulbs are delicious, but very small. The taste of wild garlic leaves is very similar to the domestic bulb, but not quite as strong. Wild garlic does have many of the same healthy properties. If you have never tried it before, give it a try this spring, and have fun foraging for it whilst taking a fabulous walk in the woods!
Wild garlic flowers in the British Isles from March to June. They are at their best and most flavoursome when the leaves are bright green, before the flowers open. As they mature they start to turn yellow, and then the flavour is less strong. Later a burst star-shaped flower indicates the end of the growing season, usually seen in May and June.
Wild garlic leaves form a dense canopy over the forest floor, and tends to grow in woodlands, with moist soils. I have located Wild Garlic mainly around river banks or streams.
They are often near or among patches of bluebells, as they also prefer slightly acidic soils, so if you know a good Bluebell wood it is likely have Wild Garlic too.
Intriguingly it is considered to be an ancient woodland indicator species. A tip for those unable to go to the woods and forage – you can buy wild garlic online, or at a farmers market.
Wild garlic doesn’t take a lot of foraging. If you are around any British woodland in the spring, you are likely to catch its scent. The first time this happens, it can be fairly bewildering to smell garlic out in the wild. I found myself gathering Wild Garlic in my local woods due to how tremendously easy it is to identify! With this tip it is extremely difficult to get it wrong – a very simple way to tell if you have found the right plant; pick the leaf, crush or tear it and use your nose, as it gives on a distinct smell of garlic! The smell of this wild garlic can stay on your hand for a while though.
Wild garlic does look similar to lily of the valley, Lords and Ladies leaves, and Autumn Crocus, which are poisonous. The key difference between the two plants is that is wild garlic always smells (of garlic). If you’re in any doubt about which plant you’ve found do not eat it.
When harvesting look out for bird droppings, and pick a little way off any immediate path to find undamaged plants. Watch where you put your feet, as when you pick the plant it is easy to bruise the leaves, and place them gently into a carrier.
Give any flowers a shake to remove any insects; wash in cold water, and pat dry to remove moisture. Like many wild leaves or salads, they will wilt after picking so use them soon or refrigerate, even freeze them.
Eating Wild Garlic
The leaves, stems, flowers and bulbs are edible. You can use Wild Garlic anywhere where you would use regular garlic, the flavour is however milder.
This plant can be eaten raw or cooked; the leaves can make a great addition to salads, used as a herb, in sandwiches, or as an ingredient for a sauce or dressing, such as a substitute for pesto or basil.
When cooked the leaves can be used as a vegetable as you would prepare and serve spinach, blanched and pureed as a sauce, in stews, risottos, quiche, or soups.
Even the stems and unopened flowers can to be added to other dishes such salads or stir-fries. The opened flowers can also be eaten; this flavour tends to be stronger than the leaves, and can also be added to salads or use as a garnish.
Fascinatingly wild garlic has traditionally been used for eras as a garnish for cheese sandwiches. Some cheeses are wrapped in the leaves as they mature, providing them with a flavourful, garlicky tang.
Take a scenic walk in your local woods this spring and harvest your own wild garlic! Whilst enjoying the fresh air and exercise in the countryside, gather some wild garlic as a natural and healthy complement to your meals, and have fun experimenting with new recipes using this fantastic local and wild ingredient.