If you’ve been for a walk in the woods lately, you might have noticed a pretty pungent aroma wafting through the trees. Look down and you will see an endless carpet of the stinky little culprits. It’s wild garlic season!
This prolific little plant (part of the allium family) sends foragers into a wild frenzy, and if you can get your hands on some you will understand exactly why. It’s a seasonal green gem known for its ability to pack a flavourful spring punch to any dish.
Seasonal period: End of March to June.
Where to find them: Wild garlic (ramsons) love ancient, damp woodlands and can be found near a stream or river. It can thrive in all sorts of soil types and it can and will grow in full shade.
How to recognise: It has broad, spear-shaped leaves and a single flower stalk that rises from the centre and explodes into delicate, white star-shaped flowers towards the middle of April when wild garlic is at its peak.
For a failsafe test, tear off a leaf, crush it in your hand and give it a sniff – it should smell strongly of onion/garlic and freshly cut grass.
What to eat: The whole plant is edible from root-to-tip; however, it’s the leaves of the plant that are the most sought after.
Cleaning and storing: Use cold water to wash off the dirt and woodland critters. Dry carefully with a tea towel to remove all the water. Bundle together and wrap in a paper towel to help retain moisture and store in the refrigerator.
Cooking: You can eat the leaves raw if you like intense flavour.
If you prefer a mellower, sweeter flavour, the leaves come into their own when cooked. Endlessly versatile, they are lovely grilled, sautéed, roasted, pickled and in pesto. One basic rule of thumb is that you can use wild garlic for anything you would normally use onions or garlic.
The flowers make a good garnish for salads and soups.
Medicinal uses: Wild Garlic has splendid antibacterial, antibiotic and antiseptic properties. It’s an incredible immune booster just like cultivated garlic, a healthy tonic for the blood and great for digestion. Apparently, bears used to eat it after winter hibernation to kick their insides into gear! Which explains one of its common names ‘bear’s garlic’.
Know hazards: Wild garlic does look rather similar to lily-of-the-valley leaves (not edible!) and colchicum (poisonous), so just remember for all wild food unless you are 100% sure of what it is and 100% sure that it is edible — DON’T EAT IT!
Responsible foraging: Due to the demand and popularity in the culinary world, there are growing concerns about overharvesting. We suggest that you only harvest the leaves and garlic, as with all wild food, it’s important that we preserve and respect them. Harvest only what you need from large, healthy bed. Simply snip off the leaves and flowers just above the stem so you avoid damaging the populations.
Consider pesticides, herbicides, pollutions and dog pee. Think about all that could, might and will have drifted onto your plants and pick wisely
If you have the space in your garden, try grow your own.