Wild garlic is one of my favourite plant to forage in early spring as it’s great for cooking and eating. In this blog post, I’ll share tips on identifying and responsibly harvesting wild garlic in the springtime, how to use it in cooking, and some of my favorite recipes.
Wild garlic (also called ramsons, bear garlic, or broad-leaved garlic) can be found growing in damp, shady woods and along stream banks across much of Europe and North America in early spring. The entire plant from bulb to flower is edible and imparts a delicate garlic taste when used fresh. Foraging for wild garlic is a wonderful way to take advantage of this tasty seasonal ingredient and connect with nature. Just remember to harvest sustainably, take only a few leaves from each plant, and avoid areas treated with pesticides.
In the kitchen, wild garlic is incredibly versatile. It can be used raw in salads and pesto, infused into oils and vinegars, or gently cooked into soups, stews and more. The flavor is much more mellow than regular garlic, with a sweetness that pairs well with lighter dishes featuring vegetables, eggs, chicken, and fish. I’ll share several easy recipe ideas using wild garlic so you can enjoy this seasonal treat from the forest to your table.
GETTING STARTED WITH FORAGING
- Foraging Guide – Getting started with foraging in the UK >>
- The best places in the UK to go foraging for wild food >>
- Best foraging books to get you started with wild food >>
How to identify wild garlic
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) can be identified by its distinctive garlic smell. Crushing a leaf between your fingers will release a potent garlic aroma.
The leaves are elongated and spear-shaped with a bright green colour. They emerge directly from the ground in spring.
The flowers are white and star-shaped, blooming between April and June on tall stalks.
The bulbs are small and elongated, wrapped in a thin white papery covering. They grow underground at the base of the leaves.
It tends to grow in moist, shady areas like woodlands and riverbanks.
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is also known as:
I find that crushing a leaf to release the distinct garlic aroma is the best way to identify wild garlic when foraging.
- Bear’s garlic
- Broad-leaved garlic
- Wood garlic
- Gypsy’s onions
- Crow garlic
- Field garlic
What other plants can wild garlic be mistaken for ?
- Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) – has bell-shaped white flowers hanging down, lacks garlic scent) – flowers in the fall not spring, lacks garlic odor
- Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) – has a basal rosette of leaves, white flowers in an umbrella shape
- Wild onion (Allium canadense) – has a mild onion scent, solid bulb
- Crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) – lacks garlic scent, has bulbs not underground but at base of leaves
- Arum maculatum – large green leaves with purple-black spots, flowers wrapped in a hood
How to harvest wild garlic
- Harvest in early spring when the leaves are young and tender, before the plants flower. The best time is March to early May
- Only harvest a few leaves from each plant. Don’t uproot the bulbs as this can destroy the colony.
- Use scissors to cut leaves off near the base, rather than pulling and damaging the plants
- Look for the largest leaves first and work your way to smaller ones later in season
- Harvest leaves in the morning after dew has dried for best flavor.
- Avoid areas treated with pesticides or near roadways
- Wash leaves thoroughly after harvesting. Store leaves wrapped in damp paper towels in an airtight container
- Use the leaves fresh within 2-3 days for maximum flavor and nutrients
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How to use wild garlic in cooking
The key is to add the raw or gently cooked leaves at the end to preserve the fresh garlic flavor. Use both leaves and chopped bulbs.
- Pesto – Blend wild garlic leaves, olive oil, Parmesan, pine nuts and seasonings into a bright green pesto sauce. Toss with pasta or use as a dip or sandwich spread.
- Soups – Add chopped wild garlic at the end of cooking soups for a pop of garlic flavor. Great in potato, tomato or chicken noodle soups.
- Salads – Mince wild garlic leaves and sprinkle raw over salads for garlic aroma and bite. Pairs well with delicate lettuces.
- Eggs – Make wild garlic butter by blending leaves with softened butter, then spread over toasted bread or add a dollop to scrambled or poached eggs.
- Meat – Rub minced wild garlic over lamb, beef or chicken before grilling or roasting. Also great tucked under the skin of poultry.
- Seafood – Stuff whole fish or fish fillets with a wild garlic mixture. Also nice with salmon or scallops.
- Oils and vinegars – Infuse olive oil or vinegar with wild garlic by steeping leaves over low heat. Great for dressings and marinades.
Wild garlic foraging season
- Wild garlic season typically runs from early spring through early summer.
- In the UK, the season starts in February and runs through June.
- The leaves emerge first, usually in February and March
- The flowering stems appear in April and May, producing white star-shaped flowers
- Bulbs reach maximum size in early spring before the leaves die back in summer
- May is considered the peak of wild garlic season when both leaves and flowers are abundant
- Harvest wild garlic leaves before flowering, ideally in March and April
- The optimal time is early spring when leaves are young, tender and milder in flavor
MORE SEASONAL FORAGING
- Monthly Foraging Guide – What’s in season now >>
- Foraging in January – Guide to wild food & recipes >>
- Foraging in February – Guide to wild food & recipes >>
Where to find wild garlic
- Ancient woodlands – Wild garlic thrives in damp, shady deciduous woodlands. Look in southern England and Wales. Popular spots include Epping Forest, Ashdown Forest, and Forest of Dean.
- Riverbanks – The damp soil along riverbanks and stream sides is ideal for wild garlic. Some good areas are along the River Wye, River Dart, and River Eden.
- Hedgerows – Old hedgerows with oak, ash, and hazel trees often have wild garlic growing on the edges. Look in rural areas and field margins.
- Scotland – It can be found across much of Scotland including Cairngorms National Park, Isle of Arran, and Inveraray.
- North Wales – The woodlands around Snowdonia National Park have plenty of wild garlic. Also try Anglesey, Llyn Peninsula, and the Clwydian Range.
- Lake District – Damp deciduous woods in the Lake District host wild garlic like Grizedale Forest and Whinlatter Forest.
So focus your search in ancient woodlands, near riverbanks, and in hedgerows in rural areas, particularly southern England, Wales, and Scotland.
Nutritional value & benefits of eating wild garlic
Wild garlic is low in calories but packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protective plant compounds that make it very nutritious.
- Rich in vitamins A, B6, C, and K. Contains decent amounts of folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
- High in antioxidants like quercetin and allicin, which have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
- Very low in calories and fat. 100 grams of raw wild garlic contains about 72 calories, 0.2 grams of fat, and 13 grams of carbs.
- Has a high fiber content. 100 grams provides 2.1 grams of dietary fiber, which promotes healthy digestion.
- Provides manganese, copper, selenium, and vitamin B1. These support bone health, immune function, thyroid function, and energy levels.
- Contains sulfur compounds like alliin, which give wild garlic its potent medicinal properties. Alliin converts to allicin when crushed.
This blog post was originally written on 5 February 2024 and last updated on 5 February 2024