Wild garlic has become one of the food joys of spring. It grows in abundance, it’s easy to identify, the whole plant is edible, and it can be enjoyed raw or cooked. Barney Desmazery has everything you need to know about foraging for this seasonal green.
Please note that as with all foraging, you’ll need the landowners permission and should only ever pick as much as you need. It is illegal to dig wild garlic up by its roots, however much of it there is, on common ground.
What is wild garlic?
As the name suggests, it’s the wild cousin to the garlic you use in the kitchen. Wild garlic is a leafy green bulbous perennial native to Britain that starts to appear as small shoots in February, flowers in April and goes to seed around June. Also commonly known as ramsons, but not to be confused the other edible wild allium, three-cornered leek, wild garlic grows prolifically in damp woodland. Until recently it’s been the secret of foragers and seasonally focused chefs, but in the last few years it’s become a must-eat ingredient in the spring food calendar, popping up at farmers markets and being picked commercially. It’s one of a foragers favourite finds – it grows in abundance and signifies the start of spring.
When is wild garlic in season?
Wild garlic has one of the longest seasons of the wild plants. The small, tender micro-herb like shoots start to appear from mid-February, with the plant reaching its full, leafy glory in late March. Around mid-April, the beautiful salad-enhancing star-shaped flowers blossom. Then, the flowers go to seed and the leaves become bitter, but the seeds can also be eaten raw or pickled like a caper.
Where does wild garlic grow?
Wild garlic thrives on the edge of damp woodland, by shaded streams and brooks. In some places it grows in astonishing amounts – it’s not uncommon to find whole gullies carpeted in its green leaves.
What does wild garlic look like?
It’s not really a case of what wild garlic looks like, it’s what it smells like – it has an unmistakable mild garlic, chive-like onion smell. In full bloom, the plant has deep green, wide, pointed leaves, a single flowering stem that produces a star-shaped white flower a bit like a snow-drop.
What part of wild garlic is edible?
One of the joys of wild garlic is that the whole plant is edible raw and cooked. The subterranean bulb (which you need permission to pull) can be treated as a small onion or calçot, the early shoots work as salad leaves or scatter herbs, the bigger leaves can be chopped and eaten raw or cooked like spinach, the stem can be used like a thick chive, the flowers make a beautiful garnish and the seed pods add a pop to a salad or can be pickled like a caper to use later in the year.
What’s the best way to pick wild garlic?
To pick wild garlic you need nothing more than a pair of shoes you don’t mind getting muddy, some scissors and a basket or bag. If you have permission to dig the edible bulbs, a gardening trowel will help. ‘Picking’ wild garlic is as simple as snipping the leaves or whole plant with a pair of scissors.
How to forage wild garlic safely and responsibly
There are a couple of poisonous plants that could be mistaken for it, Lords and Ladies being the most common, but the identification is in the scent – none of the other plants will smell of garlic. With all foraging, Good Food recommend you go with someone with experience and knowledge and refer to recognised foraging books as well as websites. Never eat anything you are unsure of, if in doubt leave it out, always seek the landowners permission and only ever pick as much as you need.
What’s the best way to store wild garlic?
Picked wild garlic is best kept somewhere cool and dark, a plastic bag in the salad draw of your fridge is ideal. Picked wild garlic leaves will keep for 3-4 days like this but the flowers are best used on the day they are picked.
What’s the best way to cook wild garlic?
Make sure you give wild garlic a good wash in cold water before eating, it’s wild so as well as mud this will rid you of any creepy crawly surprises in your dinner. Younger leaves, flowers and seed pods can simply be added to salads and the flower stems can be used like chives. Bigger leaves can be wilted like spinach or blitzed into oil, pesto or dressing. What grows together, goes together and wild garlic has an affinity with other spring ingredients like lamb, trout, salmon and new potatoes.
Top 10 wild garlic recipes
Transform your foraging finds into a range of delicious meals with our recipe suggestions below. Also discover more wild garlic recipes in our collection.
One of the most popular options for wild garlic is to turn it into a brilliantly punchy pesto sauce. Blitz the wild garlic leaves with parmesan, garlic, lemon and pine nuts to form a rough paste. This easy homemade pesto will keep in the fridge for two weeks and is delicious stirred through pasta or drizzled over salads, soups and fish dishes.
Enjoy your homemade green sauce in a range of pesto recipes
This vibrant veggie soup uses not one, but two, foraged goods – wild garlic and nettles are both in season around the same time and make a delicious combination. Add these to spring greens and diced vegetables to make a nutritious, low-fat soup bursting with seasonal flavours. If you aren’t able to find nettles, it’s also possible to make this using just wild garlic – aim for about 500g.
Use up a glut of seasonal veg with our spring soup recipes
Capture the flavour of spring with our moreish garlic butter roll. All you need is a bunch of wild garlic, butter and a pinch of sea salt – mash them together then chill or freeze for up to a month, so you can enjoy it later. It’s super-versatile – use it to make garlic bread, top jacket potatoes or drizzle over meat and fish.
Put your homemade wild garlic butter to good use as a luxurious filling for chicken kievs. The punchy flavour takes this family classic to the next level. Coat the chicken breasts in panko breadcrumbs for a gourmet finish and serve with lemon and salad leaves.
Check out more garlic chicken recipes
Looking for an impressive Easter main? Tom Kerridge’s simple yet fancy dish pairs a side of salmon with a beautiful garlic crust and tangy salsa. It makes a perfect seasonal centrepiece alongside crispy roast potatoes, braised carrots and cheesy green veg gratin.
Get more inspiration with our Easter salmon recipes
In this springtime tart, wild garlic is paired with seasonal Jersey Royals and peppery watercress, folded through a light ricotta custard. Rose harissa adds a touch of spice, whilst piquant pickled onions balance the creaminess of the Jerseys and the filling.
Check out more Jersey Royal recipes to celebrate this seasonal spud
Combine wild garlic with strained Greek yogurt and lemon juice to make a gorgeously smooth and silky labneh. It’s the perfect accompaniment to za’atar-spiced roast chicken and lemony chickpeas in this stunning traybake.
Find more delicious chicken traybake recipes
We’ve given new potatoes a seasonal makeover by tossing them with chopped wild garlic, parsley and mustard. These herby baked wonders make a simple, sophisticated side dish for meat or fish dishes at Easter.
Supplement your sides with more new potato recipes
A crowd-pleasing dish that’s great for Sunday lunch, this showstopping roast rack of pork is stuffed with a mouthwatering combination of wild garlic, nutmeg, herbs and sourdough breadcrumbs. Press the mixture into a flap cut along the rack of the pork to infuse the flavours into the meat.
Enjoy more impressive roasts with our Sunday lunch recipes
Make the most of spring greens in this flavourful veggie side. Asparagus, peas and Jersey Royals are coated in a fresh mint and wild garlic butter, then topped with crunchy toasted almonds. It also makes a delicious lunchtime salad with some goat’s cheese crumbled over.
Check out more vibrant spring greens recipes
Get more seasonal spring inspiration…
Have you cooked anything with wild garlic? Leave a comment below…