The thing I’m inviting you to notice in nature this week is wild garlic (Allium ursinum) - also known as ramsons, wood garlic, bear garlic and many other names.
Wild garlic is one of my favourite things to forage because it tastes amazing and is really versatile. Seeing it start to emerge from the ground in February always brings me some excitement, as it’s a sure sign spring is on the way.
The best place to look for wild garlic is by a river or stream or in damp woodland. You’re likely to smell its garlicky fumes before you see it. I won’t go into all the identifying features, because there’s loads of information out there already about that - this Wild Food UK post is a good place to start.
If you think you’re likely to find some wild garlic this spring, keep reading for harvesting and cooking tips. If you don’t think you’re going to find any in your area this year, maybe you can come back to this post in future when you’re close to a river, or perhaps even watch this foraging video on YouTube and pretend you’re out in the woods with Nick from Hidden Valley Bushcraft. Some shops even sell fresh or frozen wild garlic now, so you might be able to track some down this Easter weekend and try a recipe in preparation for a future forage!
How to harvest
Only pick wild garlic in areas it is growing in abundance. Take one leaf from several plants over several different areas, rather than grabbing whole handfuls from one small area. Not only does this mean you avoid picking any other plants that might sneak their way into your foraging basket (or, as is often the case for me, an empty dog poo bag), but it also means there’s enough left for wildlife to thrive, and that a healthy crop will grow back next year too.
Wild garlic has got a bit of a reputation in recent years, as it’s become a ‘trendy’ ingredient to use in expensive restaurants, and in some areas, reports of over-picking have been sensationalised by the media at times. However, as long as you use your common sense, only take the small amount you can actually use (from several patches), and consider the larger ecosystem whenever you are foraging, you shouldn’t be doing any damage.
As Robin Harford says,
“foragers are some of the most ecologically aware people around and are deeply embedded in their environment. You don’t destroy what you love, care and have respect for”.
During my short time learning how to forage, I have learnt that there are a lot of things you can eat, but that you might not necessarily want to, or at the very least are better used to bulk up dishes where they’ll be masked by other flavours. Wild garlic is not one of those plants. As long as you like garlic, this plant is delicious both raw and cooked.
Here are some of my favourite tried and tested wild garlic recipes
(find more in the further reading section)
Pesto is the classic thing to do with wild garlic, and a great place to start if you’re new to foraging (or new to cooking). I chuck in whatever nuts I have in the cupboard (I’d need to take out a loan to buy pine nuts, they are SO expensive!) and tend to use nutritional yeast instead of parmesan these days because I have a gigantic tub to get through. I just chuck everything in a blender and taste as I go rather than weigh everything out properly now - follow your tastebuds rather than an exact recipe!
These wild garlic, cheese and swede scones by Anna Jones are delicious and super easy (though there’s a lot of grating to do!). I like them warm and slathered in butter, but I think they’d be great with soup, or topped with some fresh slices of tomato too.
I made this wild garlic gnocchi last weekend, which looked pretty disgusting to be honest, but tasted great! I added roasted tomatoes to my bowl and dolloped on some ricotta. I’d recommend adding a little more wild garlic than the recipe suggests.
Once you’ve spotted it a few times, wild garlic is pretty easy to identify and doesn’t really look like much else (except Lily-of-the-Valley, seen in the photo above). I know from experience though, that when you start foraging you can be so keen to find something that you immediately forget all its identifying features and try to ID anything and everything as the thing you are looking for, whether it actually resembles it or not. This post from Wild Food UK is a great guide to some of the imposters you may spot growing in the same places as wild garlic. If in doubt, crush a leaf and give it a good sniff - if it smells like garlic you’re in luck!
Wild garlic is also known as bear garlic, which comes from the belief that bears ate the plant to regain strength after hibernation. Romans called wild garlic ‘herba salutaris’, which means ‘healing herb’ and “nine diseases shiver before the garlic” is an old County Sligo saying, according to Gabrielle Hatfield (all facts I learnt through Robin Harford’s Forage in Spring).
Wild garlic is said to be antibacterial, antibiotic, antiseptic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory diuretic, expectorant, diaphoretic… the list goes on. It can also reduce your blood pressure, and is thought to be even better for heart health than ‘regular’ garlic.
Countryfile shared a good article on wild garlic, including how to forage and some recipes to try (those bhajis are next on my list!)
This video by Nick from Hidden Valley Bushcraft goes into some more detail about wild garlic, and also mentions a couple of other great things to forage at this time of year - garlic mustard and three-cornered leek.
If you want to learn more about wild garlic’s health benefits, pick up a copy of Forage in Spring or read this Eat Yourself Brilliant article.
Share your recipes
If you have any great wild garlic recipes please share them in the comments. I live near the River Medway and there is TONS of wild garlic growing near me this year, so I am going to try as many new recipes as I can over the course of spring!
Never eat something unless you’re 100-percent sure you can identify it correctly. Do your research and make sure it’s safe to eat, and in what quantities. In the UK, we have common law to forage the four Fs (fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage) for personal consumption, but never uproot anything without permission and only take as much as you can realistically use yourself if it’s growing in abundance.
See you next week!
P.S. You can discover some other spring greens that are good for pestos in this Instagram Reel I made last year.
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Yum! I'm soooo keen to finally forage and cook with wild garlic this year. Wish me luck!