Wild garlic, Allium ursinum, often grows in large, dense colonies in shady woodlands in spring. It flowers from April so is an important early bloom for bees and other pollinating insects.
It is a popular foraged ingredient as its leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or blanched and used in place of spinach, or made into a delicious soup or pesto. It has a mild garlic flavour and is at its best before the flowers appear, although the flowers are also edible and can be added raw to salads.
Wild garlic has a more mellow taste than garlic gloves and has a distinct grassy flavour. The raw leaves have a strong pungent smell, but taste delicate and sweet.
Wild garlic, often known as ramsons, is a perennial which returns year on year and is said to be an indicator of an ancient woodland.
Identifying Wild Garlic
The best way to identify wild garlic is by smell. Crush a leaf in your hand and the aroma should smell strongly of garlic. Be careful when using this to identify subsequent leaves, as the scent can linger on your hands, and lead to false identification of a poisonous lookalike like Lily of the Valley.
The leaves are long, pointed, and oval in shape with untoothed edges. They grow from the plant base and can grow to a height of 50 cm.
The umbels of white flowers appear from April to June with six petals on a thin stalk. Around 25 flowers form each rounded flower cluster.
Do not confuse wild garlic with Lily of the Valley when not in flower. The leaves of wild garlic grow from the plant base whereas Lily of the Valley has two or three leaves on its stem. When in flower, Lily of the Valley is easily distinguishable from wild garlic as it has bell-shaped, white flowers. Lily of the Valley is poisonous so be sure to fully identify wild garlic correctly before foraging.
Storing Wild Garlic
Wild garlic only lasts a few days after picking. If you don’t plan on cooking with your newly foraged crop within a day or two after collecting, then it can be wrapped in a damp kitchen towel or stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
Wild garlic can be frozen to preserve its freshness and nutrients by washing and drying before placing in a freezer bag in the freezer.
Used traditionally throughout Europe as a spring tonic due to its blood-purifying properties, similarly to bulb garlic, wild garlic is thought to lower blood-pressure and cholesterol, which in turn helps to reduce the risk of diseases such as heart attack or stroke.
- Be sure you can positively identify any plant before you pick it, and never eat any plant of which you are unsure.
- Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply and only collect a small amount for personal use. Never completely strip an area as this could damage the species.
- Leave enough for wildlife and avoid damaging habitats. Many animals rely on plants for survival, so do not take more than you plan to eat, as this could deny wildlife from a valuable food source. Be mindful about wildlife habitats and avoid disturbing or damaging anything.