How to find wild garlic

How times have changed. Years ago, all that could be learnt about wild garlic via Google was instructions on how to eradicate it from dairy farms in the USA (it taints the milk if the cows eat too much of it).

It’s a different story now. Most search engines will direct you straight to any number of scrummy recipes. Why? Because wild or – to use the trendy terminology – foraged food is a thrill. And better still, it’s free.

Discover all our wild garlic recipes, including spanakopita, pesto and an emerald green wild garlic oil.

How to find wild garlic

If you pass by any bit of British woodland in the spring, chances are you will catch its scent on the wind. The first time this happens, it can be mildly disconcerting. It seems strange to smell garlic miles away from a kitchen.



How to forage for wild garlic

Foraging for wild garlic is easy and pretty much hazard-free. Avoid lily-of-the-valley, which looks similar but doesn’t smell of garlic and is toxic. Be wary of slightly bleary-eyed and hungry grizzlies!

Look for clusters of broad, pure green spearhead-shaped leaves growing in damp areas of deciduous woodland, often close to water – and often near bluebells. If it’s flowering, you’ll see pretty white petalled flower heads sitting on a single stem shooting up from connected leaves. If you’re at all unsure, rub a leaf between finger and thumb to release the garlicky aroma.

Allium ursinum, aka ramson and ‘bear’s garlic’ (so-called because bears eat it after hibernating to get their digestive tract back into gear), is a perennial, as hardy and fast-growing as chives. First come the luscious and drooping leaves – which can form a dense canopy over the forest floor – then a burst of white flowers indicates the end of the growing season. The plant self-seeds and dies back.

Legally you’re allowed to harvest any part of the wild garlic plant above ground (provided you’re on public land; otherwise you need the landowner’s permission to be there). Anything below the ground – like the root and bulb – needs to be left intact, otherwise you’re removing the entire plant and it won’t grow back next year. Simply snip or pick the leaves, buds and/or flowers, avoiding anything brown or damaged.

How does it taste?

The taste of wild garlic leaves is very similar to the domestic bulb, but not quite as hot on the palate. That said, wild garlic has many (and some say more) of the same health-giving properties. If you have never tried it before, give it a whirl this spring.

It is edible at all stages of this growth but, unlike domestic garlic, it is the leaves, rather than the bulbs, that are prized. The bulbs are delicious, too, but very small and fiddly. The leaves and flowers make a great addition to salads or – as they have traditionally been used for centuries – as a garnish for cheese sandwiches. In fact, some Cornish Yarg cheeses are wrapped in the leaves as they mature, giving them a tangy, garlicky edge.

Tips for sourcing wild garlic


If you are trapped in the urban rat race then you can buy wild garlic online. Farmers’ markets often sell it by the bag for a song.

It keeps well in the fridge and don’t be afraid of buying what seems like a lot, especially if you plan to cook with it. Like any green, it wilts and shrinks a lot in the heat. If you live near any Asian supermarkets, there is a leaf known as gau choi or Chinese leek, which tastes similar.

You can plant some in your garden, but be warned that wild garlic is as invasive as mint and should stay in a pot.


Wild garlic recipes

Once you get wild garlic into the kitchen, what should you do with it? Try a simple wild garlic pesto, add it to pasta with seasonal asparagus, put it in a spanakopita or cheesy pie, use it in a saag, or make soup.

Click here to see lots more wild garlic recipe ideas.

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