How to Forage for Wild Garlic, a Delicious Spring Green
How to find, pick, and use Wild Garlic in fresh spring dishes. This delicious wild edible is easy to identify and a must-have for any wild food forager.
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It’s late May and getting towards the tail end of wild garlic season. Each year this leafy green herb faithfully emerges from the forest floor, filling the entire area with a soft garlicky scent. Very much else is growing in the garden in early April so those in the know head out to glens and bogs to find it. For the next eight weeks, you can fill your foraging basket with tender edible leaves that are excellent in all manner of savory dishes. They’re so prolific that in many areas there isn’t a fear of over-picking them either.
Wild Garlic Grows in Huge Swathes
Here on the Isle of Man wild garlic is very easy to find – that’s because of the conditions it grows in. It loves moist, slightly acidic soil, and places with dappled sun. When I do spot it growing in huge swathes it will be in forested areas with either boggy soil or a stream flowing nearby. It also likes to grow in hedgerows, especially those which are made up of stone walls that have been covered up with soil over the years. These may be very specific to the Isle of Man though.
Wild Garlic Profile
- Latin name: Allium ursinum
- Grows across temperate Europe. Ramps in North America are similar but a different species.
- The leaves, bulb, and flowers can be used in edible dishes
- It tastes like mild garlic with a pleasant aroma
- Grows in moist, boggy, places like glens and waterways
- The first leaves can emerge in March and the plant will die down completely by early summer. They return again every spring.
- The entire plant will smell of garlic
An Easy to Identify Wild Food
If you’re a beginner forager then you should put wild garlic on your list of wild edibles to try first. They’re easy to identify and have excellent flavor, unlike many edible greens you might find in wild food guides. Oftentimes you’ll smell the plant before you even see it. So it’s possible to drive around an area with your window open on a warm spring day to find it.
The plant is composed of a tiny bulb that sprouts tender green leaves in early spring and then later on white flowers emerge. You can pick and eat both the leaves and flowers from plants you find growing in the wild. It is not permitted to dig the plant or bulb up unless you find it growing on your own property.
More Wild Food Foraging for Beginners
The best time to pick wild garlic is when the leaves are new but before it flowers. You can still pick it afterward but the leaves aren’t as tender. Pick the flowers to use as garlicky flavored garnishes for salads and other dishes.
Wild garlic has very few plant look-alikes. If in doubt, bruise a leaf and smell and if it smells like garlic you’re in. If it doesn’t smell like garlic it may be Lily of the Valley which you want to avoid eating as it’s highly toxic.
How to Pick Wild Garlic
- Only pick the leaves and flowers if you find it growing in the wild
- Wild garlic bulbs are tiny and not like conventional garlic
- Only pick a leaf from each plant to ensure it continues to thrive
- Forage in areas away from busy roads and above the dog leg-lifting height
- Pick leaves with your hands, snapping the stem under the leafy part
- You won’t use the stem in cooking so either pick it off the leaf as you forage (leaving it behind) or cut it off in the kitchen and compost it.
- Tip: if you plan on using the wild garlic the next day or later, keep the stem on and put the leaves into a jar of water as you would with flowers. The leaves wilt quickly otherwise.
Wild Garlic Recipes
For most recipes you’ll only need a handful of leaves, maybe ten, which you then take home, rinse with cold water, pat dry and then prepare for cooking. Here are some wild garlic recipes for you to try:
- Homemade Wild Garlic Pizza
- Wild Garlic Hummus
- Delicious Wild Garlic Pesto
- Wild Garlic & Cheese Scones
A Versatile Ingredient
The leaves are used like any other green vegetable and can be used in stir-fries, lasagna, or literally any dish that needs greens. It can also be used as a herb and will lightly flavor the dish with a mild garlic taste. Wild garlic has literally countless uses in the kitchen so feel free to be as creative as you’d like. Get it in while you can though because once the plants die down in late spring it will be another year before you taste it again.
Grow Your Own Wild Garlic
If you’re not sure if wild garlic grows in your area, you can also grow it in the garden. Sow wild garlic seeds indoors from February to April. Seedlings will appear in 2-4 weeks and you’ll grow the seedlings on until planting them out in situ. Harden them off first and plant out after the last frost.
Alternatively, you can broadcast seeds where they are to grow in late spring. Leave the plants to grow the first year and begin harvesting from February the next year. Wild garlic is perennial and after the first sowing, they’ll continue re-growing for years.
Hi Tanya! I loved reading your article because I am also into foraging, mostly mushrooms, but more recently also into wild plants. I am from Romania and here, when springtime arrives, we usually find wild garlic for sell al local markets (farmer’s market). It’s a delicacy and I’ve had it many times, especially in stews. I will give it a try on pizza, my hubby loves making pizza, thanks for the idea.
Lovely article. Just as a note for readers in other parts of the world, ramps are quite endangered in many areas and it’s even illegal to harvest any in some places like parts of Canada because they are so quickly disappearing thanks to overzealous foragers. They are very slow to grow and reproduce, so I was happy to see your suggestions to always leave the bulbs and only take one leaf per plant. We love ramps here in MN too. Luckily, there are some nice patches in our neck of the woods and nobody else seems to be harvesting them so we can enjoy a few every spring. :)
Thank you for the further information on Ramps in Canada Alicia! Unfortunately it’s the same everywhere with wild plants being over-foraged. The rule for all of us is to be responsible, take only the leaves, and leave enough for the plant to continue living.
Loved reading your article, Tanya, as usual. I would love to try this. I think my nose and I need to go for a drive down by the river. I live in the USA. I have the Illinois and the Mississippi rivers close by and lots of streams in between. Do you think it grows here? Thanks again for sharing your great knowledge.
Oh yes! You’ll find them known as ‘Ramps’ in the USA but I’m not sure if they’ll be in your area. Have a look online to see perhaps.
Hi tanya, I always love your posts on wild garlic, I have never come across any but after reading this post I think that I don’t have anywhere near me that is ideal growing conditions which is such a shame as I would love to try some.
It seems to like the cooler and wetter north. Still, I’m sure there’s some around London! I’ve seen it growing along a stream in north London for sure. Keep an eye (and a nose) out for it if you’re ever in a boggy woodland setting. They love growing on river/stream banks too.