Every spring a delight awaits us in the woodland, peeking through the ground, with its unmistakeable scent, leaves of wild garlic are just asking to be picked. We LOVE picking wild garlic in the woods, so we wrote this foraging guide, so you can too!
What is wild garlic
A wild relative of the onion plant, Allium Ursinum is native to Europe. In England it is known by the common name Ramsons. In Austria it is called Bärlauch, literally meaning Bear Leek. Apparently the name originates from the brown bear’s fondness for digging up and eating bulbs of wild garlic in the spring.
How to identify wild garlic
Wild garlic has bright green leaves with an elegant pointed shape. Single leaves form from a small white bulb. When they flower later in spring, they have white star like flower heads. The plant has a pungent garlic aroma.
The most common lookalike which you should be careful of when foraging is Lily of the valley Convallaria majalis, which is highly poisonous. When flowering they are easy to tell apart. But earlier in the season, the leaves are remarkably similar. Look for the distinguishing feature that Wild Garlic Allium ursinum has only one leaf coming from a single stem formed at the base, whereas Lily of the Valley has two or more leaves on a stem split further up the plant. The best way to identify Allium ursinum is to follow your nose – the leaves smell strongly of garlic. Just make sure the smell is coming from the leaf you are trying to identify, and not lingering on your hands from some previously crushed Wild Garlic! For more details see this guide on how to avoid mistaking Lily of the Valley for Ramsons by Paul Kirtley. Other possible poisonous lookalikes are Colchicum autumnale, Arum maculatum and Veratrum viride. As always when foraging, always be 100% sure that what you are picking is what you think it is and safe to eat.
Where to find wild garlic
So now you know how to identify Wild Garlic, but where can you find it? Wild garlic loves to grow in moist woodland across Europe. It especially likes ancient deciduous woodland. It grows in patches across the woodland floor and can often be found alongside bluebells in England. Our favourite spot for picking wild garlic is a little spot near to Paul’s hometown of Krems in Austria. Hidden among the snowdrops, in damp woodland along the river Danube, is paradise for Wild Garlic addicts like us.
When to pick wild garlic
Peak season for picking wild garlic is March, though it can emerge as early as Feb and still be good to pick as late as June. The leaves are at their most tender and flavoursome before the plants have flowered. The flowers and seed pods are also edible.
How to pick wild garlic
Don’t disturb the bulb when picking wild garlic, simply use scissors or your fingernails to pick a leaf at the stem. The leaves can bruise quite easily so take a nice spacious bag or basket with you to gather them in. Emphasis on SPACIOUS, you will want plenty of this delicious wild treat to take home ;) It usually grows in large patches so it’s difficult to take too much, but be mindful not to overpick an area.
When picking a spot to forage, try and stay away from areas by road or frequent dog walking spots. One other thing to be careful of when picking wild garlic is ticks, which are in season at the same time, we recommend you check yourself over afterwards. Always wash your wild garlic very well before eating.
You can store it in the fridge for several days. Putting the stems in a jar of water works well to keep it fresher for longer. You can also freeze it like spinach. Just wash it first.
What to do with wild garlic
Now here come’s the best bit. You’ve foraged your wild garlic, but what can you do with it? Wild garlic can be used in so many ways, and its flavour can make any dish shine. Make it the star of the show, by eating it raw (after you’ve washed it well). A slice of homemade sourdough rye, topped with fresh wild garlic and a drizzle of olive oil is Paul’s idea of heaven. In salads it adds a heat and garlic hit. My favourite is to make it into vegan pesto, just chop the wild garlic leaves, add toasted chopped cashew nuts, a couple of tsp nutritional yeast, a tsp of salt and top it up with olive oil. It’s absolutely amazing, forget basil pesto, wild garlic pestois the bomb!
When cooked wild garlic becomes milder. It’s perfect to use just as you would use spinach. Stir it into pasta sauces, curries, dal, lasagne… A traditional Austrian dish using wild garlic is Bärlauch strudel. Wild garlic also makes a delicious soup. Whatever you choose to make with your foraged leaves, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a meal made with wild garlic you have ventured out to the woods to gather.
Happy wild garlic foraging!
Sophie and Paul