Wild garlic: Where to find it and what to do with it?

by Cat Woods

Summer is the perfect time to go foraging for this versatile and pungent smelling plant, which can be made into a delicious soup or pesto. Here’s a guide on where to find it, how to cook it and tasty wild garlic recipe ideas that have inspired me online. 

With its fresh, garlicky smell wild garlic is an unmistakable scent in forests and woodland the spring months. Preferring to grow in shady and damp conditions, the wild garlic season starts in late winter and lasts until the end of spring, although it may be past its best by then.

Wild garlic has a lighter flavour to traditional bulb garlic, and the green, pointed leaves and white flowers of this bulbous perennial flowering plant are easy to identify, making it a good first foray into foraging. As wild garlic grows in abundance it is generally acceptable to pick a small amount, however our guide below explains how to pick wild garlic without causing any detrimental impact to the natural environment. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and can be blended to make a delicious pesto to add to pasta, salads or soups.

Why not take a woodland walk this spring and see if you can spot or smell any wild garlic – just head to your local woodland or riverbank. Here’s how to forage for wild garlic near you, with a few key details regarding where it can be found, characteristics and easy wild garlic recipe ideas.

When is the wild garlic season?

The plant, native to Britain, is also known as Bear leek, Bear’s garlic, Broad-leaved garlic, Buckrams, Ramsons, Wood garlic and can grow to heights of between 45 and 50 cm.

The leaves and flowers are edible. Young leaves are delicious added to soups, sauces and pesto. Leaves appear in March and are best picked when young. The flowers emerge from April to June and can add a potent garlic punch to salads and sandwiches.

What does wild garlic look like?

Wild garlic grows in dense clumps, often carpeting woodland floors in the peak of the season. The vibrant green leaves are long and pointed with a smooth edge and are best picked when they are young. Wild garlic flowers form delicate white clusters and tend to bloom in mid spring. The flowers are also edible and can look pretty added to salads and other dishes.

What are the health benefits of wild garlic?

Used traditionally throughout Europe as a spring tonic due to its blood-purifying properties, similarly to bulb garlic, 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. Its smell is said to repel cats, so may be a good inclusion for a keen ornithologist’s garden. Despite its strong scent, wild garlic has a much mellower taste than conventional garlic. Easily confused, prior to flowering, with the similarly leaved Lily of the Valley. Best not to eat this one though, it’s poisonous.

Where to find wild garlic

Dense clusters of green spears thrust from the woodland floor in spring: these are ramsons, better known as wild garlic and they are a sign that the woodland you are walking in is very old.

Closely related to onions and garlic, ramsons similarly grow from bulbs and give off a strong and attractive garlic smell. In continental Europe, the bulbs are thought to be a favourite food of brown bears, hence the plant’s scientific name Allium ursinum (bear leek).

Where to find wild garlic near me

If you’re new to for foraging then wild garlic is a great best place to start, as it’s very easy to identify, very prolific and delicious. At this time of year there is no need to buy garlic bulbs in the supermarket – their foraging counterpart can be found in any British woodland or riverbank. I often find it in Sankey Valley, St.Helens, where we run our Foraging walks

What to do with wild garlic

Like the domesticated alliums, ramsons are edible and the leaves are an excellent addition to a cheese or hummus sandwich. Carefully, pick a handful of leaves without uprooting the bulbs and blend or chop and use like garlic. You can also save the flowers as they make a beautiful edible decoration to savoury dishes.

Whizzed up with walnuts, olive oil and a few tablespoons of parmesan added after, the leaves also make a delicious wild garlic pesto.

Try this recipe for wild garlic salt on BBC Wildlife‘s website.

Better still, you can create a lovely spring soup from the leaves. Fry an onion in butter until soft and add a finely cubed potato and a bay leaf. After another five minutes frying, add 500ml of vegetable stock and simmer until the potato is soft –about 10 minutes. Add the bunch of ramsons leaves and cook briefly – no more than a couple of minutes. Remove the bay leaf, blend the soup, add seasoning and you will have a bowl of spring green goodness.

How to make wild garlic pesto

Turn your foraged finds into a delicious, vibrant pesto to enjoy this spring. Here is an easy recipe for wild garlic pesto from Countryfile which can be added to pasta, tarts, sandwiches or soups.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

Why not try one of our our foraging walks in St.Helens? You can find all of our events on Facebook! or read my blog 5 edible plants to forage in St.Helens. 

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