Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic

Allium ursinum

A popular wild edible that first appears as early as February in the UK.
Growing abundantly in damp woodland areas. 
It is known by many common names including Ramsons, Wood Garlic and Bear Garlic. Ursinum is derived from the Latin word ursus, meaning bear, and is thought to originate from the belief that bears would eat the plant upon waking from hibernation to regain strength and detoxify.

Wild Garlic

The plant is easiest to recognise when it blooms; clusters of white star shaped flowers carpet the ground in an eye-catching display. 
The pungent garlic aroma may catch your attention first though.

"If you can smell garlic, everything is all right."

James Graham Ballard
Wild Garlic Flower
Wild Garlic Flower

Precautions

Wild Garlic is definitely one of the easier wild foods to identify, mainly due to it’s strong garlic scent but caution is advised. There are some poisonous plants that could be mistakenly picked if you are not being careful.

Lily Of The Valley –Convallaria majalis is a sweetly scented but highly poisonous plant whose leaves can look very similar to the untrained eye. It does not smell like garlic though.

Lords and Ladies, Cuckoo Pint and Arum Lily are just a few of many common names for Arum maculatum which often grows alongside Wild Garlic. The mature leaves are quite different but it’s wise to be extra cautious not to accidentally gather any while picking Wild Garlic; consuming any part of this plant causes a very unpleasant burning/needle sensation which can result in swelling of the throat and breathing difficulty, due to the presence of Calcium Oxalate crystals.   

As with all foraging, be aware of potential contaminants such as heavy traffic, agricultural chemicals or dog urine. 

Arum maculatum growing alongside wild garlic
Wild Garlic growing alongside poisonous Arum maculatum
Allium ursinum and Arum maculatum leaf
Closer inspection reveals distinct differences in the leaves
Allium ursinum and Arum maculatum
The leaves of both plants are curled at first which could lead to misidentification if picked carelessly.

Harvesting

Unlike cultivated garlic, it is not the bulbs that are consumed, in fact it is illegal to uproot wild plants without permission of the landowner. All parts of the plant are edible but the roots are of little value.

It is the leaves, stems and flowers that pack a flavour punch worthy of a place at any forager’s table!

As mentioned above, care should be taken when collecting the leaves; usually, when you find Wild Garlic you find lots of Wild Garlic. A lush carpet of green (and later white).

It is better to take a few handfuls from different areas rather than decimate one spot. I carefully push the leaves aside to reveal the juicy white stems and pick a small bunch.
I give them a quick soak in cold water and check that I haven’t picked anything else with them (A salad spinner is ideal for washing wild greens).

 

"There are many miracles in the world to be celebrated and, for me, garlic is the most deserving."

Leo Buscaglia
Allium ursinum

Garlic, Glorious Garlic!

Garlic is one of my favourite ingredients. I probably say that about a lot of things but if I was pushed to choose only one ingredient, garlic would be a strong contender. The idea of a world without garlic is really quite a distressing thought to me! 😯

As you can imagine, I sleep better at night knowing this stuff grows plentifully each Springtime.

It has the same pungent flavour as the more familiar bulb garlic but slightly milder (less likely to burn when eaten raw).  

In Germany, the town of Eberbach hold a month-long annual festival, Eberbacher Bärlauchtage, celebrating Wild Garlic (Bärlauch).
I’m sure foragers all around the world celebrate, in one form or another, the arrival of this valuable plant. 

 

"Without Garlic, I simply would not care to live."

Louis Diat
Allium ursinum, wild garlic

Eating

Wild Garlic is such a versatile ingredient. The flavour is mild enough to be eaten raw and less cooking is usually preferable but the only limit is your own imagination. 
The flowers make a pretty tasty garnish. 
At this time of year I’m adding it to almost everything from simple Beans on toast to mashed potato, soups, risottos, pasta.  

Popular ways to preserve your Wild Garlic harvests include drying and powdering the leaves or fermenting. 

The unopened flower buds, early in the season as well as the green seed pods that develop later in the season are both great for pickling.     

 

Thai green soup with wild garlic
Thai Green Soup with Wild Garlic
Wild Garlic Mash
Mash with Fried Onions and Wild Garlic

Recommended Further Reading

Learn the simple and satisfying fermentation process with Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods: How To Ferment Wild Greens.

Read more about the historical cultural use of Wild Garlic as food and Medicine in Robin Hartfords’s in depth article on his Eatweeds website: Wild Garlic – A Foraging Guide to It’s Food, Medicine and Other Uses. 

Check out these identification features from Wild Food UK: Wild Garlic. 

Wild Garlic Recipes...

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