Wild garlic guide: where to find, how to cook it and recipe ideas

Late spring is the perfect times to go foraging for this versatile and pungent plant, which can be whipped up into a delicious soup or pesto. Our expert guide on where to find it and forage responsibly, how to cook it and tasty wild garlic recipe ideas

27th March 2018
Leaves and flowers of wild garlic being harvested on a foraging trip in ancient woodland in England during springtime. Both parts of this plant are edible and make an excellent ingredient for cooking a variety of dishes.

Wild garlic facts

The plant, native to Britain, is also known as Bear leek, Bear's garlic, Broad-leaved garlic, Buckrams, Ramsons, Wood garlic and can grow to heights of between 45 and 50 cm.

The leaves and flowers are edible. Young leaves are delicious added to soups, sauces and pesto. Leaves appear in March and are best picked when young. The flowers emerge from April to June and can add a potent garlic punch to salads and sandwiches.

Wild garlic
Add wild garlic leaves to soups, salads and pasta dishes/Credit: Getty

Used traditionally throughout Europe as a spring tonic due to its blood-purifying properties, it is also thought to lower cholesterol. The leaves were once boiled and the resulting liquid used as a disinfectant. Its smell is said to repel cats, so may be a good inclusion for a keen ornithologist’s garden. Despite its strong scent, wild garlic has a much mellower taste than conventional garlic. Easily confused, prior to flowering, with the similarly leaved Lily of the Valley. Best not to eat this one though, it’s poisonous.

Where to find wild garlic

Dense clusters of green spears thrust from the woodland floor in spring: these are ramsons, better known as wild garlic and they are a sign that the woodland you are walking in is very old.

Allium ursinum (Ramson) in bloom, close-up
Allium ursinum (Ramson) in bloom, close-up/Credit: Getty

Closely related to onions and garlic, ramsons similarly grow from bulbs and give off a strong and attractive garlic smell. In continental Europe, the bulbs are thought to be a favourite food of brown bears, hence the plant’s scientific name Allium ursinum (bear leek).

If you’re new to foraging then wild garlic is a great best place to start, as it’s very easy to identify, very prolific and delicious. At this time of year there is no need to buy garlic bulbs in the supermarket - their foraging counterpart can be found in any British woodland or riverbank.

Wild garlic in a woodland
Wild garlic thrives in woodlands where it can often be found in abundance/Credit: Getty

Wild garlic likes damp ground where it will grow in abundance, with hundreds of green leaves growing on a single green stem. Here is a small selection of some of the best places to see, and to smell wild garlic in the UK:

Woodland ramson (Allium ursinum), Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, England
Woodland ramson (Allium ursinum), Cotswolds, Gloucestershire/Credit: Getty

What to do with wild garlic

Like the domesticated alliums, ramsons are edible and the leaves are an excellent addition to a cheese or pate sandwich. Dig up the bulbs and use like garlic, and save the flowers- they make a beautiful edible decoration to savoury dishes.

Whizzed up with walnuts, olive oil and a few tablespoons of parmesan added after, the leaves also make a delicious wild garlic pesto.

Wild garlic pesto
Wild garlic pesto - serve with freshly cooked pasta or spread thinly on toast/Credit: Getty

Better still, you can create a lovely spring soup from the leaves. Fry an onion in butter until soft and add a finely cubed potato and a bay leaf. After another five minutes frying, add 500ml of vegetable stock and simmer until the potato is soft –about 10 minutes. Add the bunch of ramsons leaves and cook briefly – no more than a couple of minutes. Remove the bay leaf, blend the soup, add seasoning and you will have a bowl of spring green goodness.

How to store and can you freeze wild garlic?

wild garlic in glass
Place wild garlic stems in a glass of water to retain freshness/Credit: Getty

If you plan on cooking with your newly foraged wild garlic within a day or two after collecting, then it can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Alternatively, pop the stem in a glass of water and put in the fridge to help stay fresh for longer. 

Similarly to frozen fruit or vegetables, wild garlic can be frozen to preserve its freshness and nutrients. Simply, wash and dry and place in a freezer bag and freeze. Another benefit freezing wild garlic this is you can cook with wild garlic out of season. 

How to forage for wild garlic responsibly

foraging
Never collect more than you plan to eat/Credit: Getty

Foraging can be a rewarding and fun, however in order to protect the natural environment and prevent damage to the plant or fungi species, it is vital to forage responsibly.

Here are a couple of key foraging guidelines:

- Seek permission before foraging. In certain areas, plant species will be protected so it is important to do some research and check with the landowner before you start gathering. 

- Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply. Look for areas where you can find wild garlic in abundance and then only collect a small amount for personal use. Never completely strip an area as this could damage the species and deny another forager the chance to collect.

- Leave enough for wildlife and avoid damaging habitats. Many animals rely on plants for survival, so never take more than you plan to eat as this could also deny wildlife from a valuable food source. Be mindful about wildlife habitats and avoid disturbing or damaging. 

- Never pick protected species or cause permanent damage. Britain's wild plants are all protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), which makes it illegal to dig up or remove a plant. Check the law before you forage or if in doubt, why take part in a foraging class with an expert and learn the basics. 

Wild garlic recipe ideas 

River Cottage chef Gill Meller has created three delicious wild garlic recipes to rustle up using your foraged finds 

Gill Mellor River Cottage
Cook up a wild garlic feast with River Cottage Gill Mellor's easy recipes

Wild garlic, potato and chorizo tortilla

Wild garlic potato and chorizo tortilla
Wild garlic potato and chorizo tortilla

I really enjoy cooking through spring and early summer. It’s a pleasure, particularly if you’ve gone out and picked a little wild garlic beforehand, and this simple breakfast or lunch dish is no exception. Big flavours and easy to find ingredients make it a pretty, reliable, no-hassle fallback.

Method 

Heat a heavy-based non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add a dash of olive oil and the butter. When the butter is foaming, add the onions and chorizo. Cook while tossing regularly for six to eight minutes or until the onions are
soft and the chorizo has given up some of its well-flavoured fat. Add the potatoes and toss them about the pan. Cook for further four or five minutes. Now slice the garlic leaves thinly and scatter into the pan. Turn everything together.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the chorizo and potatoes; give the pan a little shake. At this point you can either gently cook the frittata on the hob or place it in a medium-hot oven until the eggs are just set. It should take only a few minutes to cook through.

Scatter with parsley and fennel leaves and serve warm with a simply dressed green salad. 

Ingredients

  • 1 handful of wild garlic
  • leaves, rinsed
  • 100g of good quality
  • chorizo sausage sliced
  • into small chunks
  • 200g cooked potatoes
  • cut into cubes 
  • 4 large organic eggs
  • 1 large onion, peeled
  • and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley 
  • A small handful of fennel leaf tops (optional)
  • 50g butter
  • A dash of olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wild garlic and onion bhaji with wild garlic raita

Wild garlic and onion bhaji with wild garlic raita
Wild garlic and onion bhaji with wild garlic raita

These bhajis have become a River Cottage classic. They are cracking with a good curry or served with drinks as a little appetiser.

Method

First, make the raita. Combine the yoghurt with the cucumber, mint and wild garlic and add the salt. Mix well and set aside.

To make the bhajis, combine the gram flour with the ground coriander, cumin, curry powder and salt in a bowl. Turn through the onion seeds, wild garlic and sliced onions. Stirring as you go, gradually pour in the beer or water until you have a nice and smooth, yet very thick, batter – you may not need all the liquid.

Pour the oil into a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan to a depth of about 8-10cm and warm over a medium heat – you want the oil to be hot, but not too hot, because the onions and flour need to cook through without the outside of the bhajis burning – 165°C is perfect. You’ll need to cook them in batches, so don’t overcrowd the pan – drop large spoonfuls ofthe batter into the oil and cook until golden, about four to five minutes, turning once or twice. Drain on kitchen paper briefly and serve hot, with the raita alongside.

Ingredients 

(makes about 16 bhajis)

  • 100g chickpea flour (also known as gram flour)
  • 2 tsp ground coriander 
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tbls of medium curry powder
  • 1 good pinch black onion seeds
  • 3-4 tbsp finely ribboned wild garlic leaves
  • 1 large onion peeled and thinly sliced 
  • 100-120ml beer (or water)
  • Groundnut oil for deep frying

For the raita

  • 150ml whole yogurt 
  • ¼ of a small cucumber, peeled and cubed into
  • 1cm pieces
  • 1 tbls of chopped fresh
  • mint leaves
  • 1 tbls of chopped wild
  • garlic leaves
  • 1 pinch flaky of sea salt

Pan fried pollock with ham and wild garlic

Pan fried pollock with ham and wild garlic
Pan fried pollock with ham and wild garlic

This recipe should appeal to those of you with a passion for fish cookery and the occasional woodland forage. I love using air-dried ham, which we make regularly at River Cottage, or you could use free-range or organic bacon. 

Ingredients

(serves 2)

  • 2 pieces of pollock fillet, 150g each, with
  • the skin on
  • 4 thin slices of air-dried ham
  • 1 small bunch of wild garlic leaves
  • 15 g butter
  • 1 tbls of olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method 

Heat a medium sized nonstick pan over a medium-high heat. Add the butter and oil. Season the fish with salt and pepper. When the butter is bubbling, add the fish, skin-side down. After a minute or so, tear the ham into pieces and fry for a minute or two, moving it around the fish as it sizzles. Now roughly chop the garlic leaves and add these, too.

They will wilt in the buttery juices quite quickly. Use a spatula to turn the fish and cook for one more minute on the other side, or until it is just cooked through. You can tell that it’s ready by pushing a knife into the thickest part of the fillet and making sure the fish flakes apart.

Bring the fish to the table with some early new potatoes, a good salad and some fresh bread.

 

 

Main image: Leaves and flowers of wild garlic being harvested on a foraging trip in ancient woodland in England during springtime. Both parts of this plant are edible and make an excellent ingredient for cooking a variety of dishes. Credit: Getty

 

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