After a long, cold and wet winter spring has finally started to show itself around mid-April here in Southern England. What signifies spring for me more than anything else is being able to start foraging for foods that have laid dormant since last year. The first edible on my list to look for is wild garlic, also known as ramsons or forest leek. In this guide I will be showing anyone interested how I am identifying and picking wild garlic.
Wild garlic is a bit of a wonder in itself. It tastes like a mix between garlic and leek and packs a great punch in a pesto or soup. What is even greater about it is that it will readily freeze and keeps well in the freezer for over half a year. If you've ever been to the woods and have spotted someone cutting leaves from the ground and putting them into buckets around this time of the year you are probably looking at a professional chef. Wild garlic is blowing up on the popularity scale due to its versatility and if you are lucky you will find it ina restaurant or market near you.
As for the nutritional values in wild garlic, it is very similar to its cousin the garlic. It has one of nature's strongest abilities to boost hydrogen sulphide production in the human body which is proven to fight cancer. I presume most of you thought the following after reading that sentence just now: "What on earth? Isn't hydrogen sulphide a toxin? Has Gloria gone mental after eating all those greens?" The answer is both yes and no, hydrogen sulphide is actually really poisonous in high concentrations - but at lower levels like the one you get from eating wild garlic it is one of the most beneficial compounds for a long and healthy life. Hydrogen sulphide helps the body to relax blood vessels, muscles and increases blood flow. It is also on its way of becoming the next potent agent for preventing and relieving the symptoms of aging and age-associated diseases.
Now on to finding this wondrous herb...
If you are wrecking your brain with where you are going to start looking for wild garlic I can give you some hints. It grows naturally in semi shaded, wet forests and farmland. If you know somewhere where water collects up against a small thicket of older trees you are likely onto something. Our favourite spot to pick wild garlic is by the side of a country road that leads into an old forest. It is wet as it has runoff from a nearby grazing pad and the wild garlic absolutely loves this.
Characteristics of Wild Garlic and Possible Misidentification
There are a few plants that can be mistaken for wild garlic but unless you have a stuffy nose due to allergies or a cold you will not have any problems pinpointing the plant. Simply rub a leaf between your fingers and it will soon let you know if it is wild garlic. It will instantly smell like a cross between garlic and chives.
It can look a bit like lily of the valley which is poisonous, but lily of the valley doesn't smell anything like garlic once it's bruised. If you are still afraid of harvesting the wrong plant then here are two other rules to go by. Lily of the valley will have two or three leaves coming out of one stem while wild garlic grows as a bunch of stems with only one leaf per stem.
Lily of the valley has a strand of several white flowers that resemble bells and has a very distinctive sweet scent to it. Wild garlic flowers are at the tip of a long stem and are bunched into an umbel. They look like little flower balls made of stars with 6 petals each.
Always keep in mind that for the first time picker lily of the valley and wild garlic can be easily confused if you do not check the smell, stem and the flowers. If you are still in doubt for whatever reason then leave the greens on the ground or take an experienced forager with you to make sure you are picking wild garlic.
Harvest the wild garlic by using a sharp knife or scissors to cut it close to the ground. It is important to remember the ⅓ rule when you harvest, meaning that you should always leave at least ⅔ of any garlic covered area behind to make sure there will be enough left for the coming seasons. You will want to keep your wild garlic spot thriving for years to come so it is important that you do not overpick - although in our spot that seems nearly impossible to do.
Once you are safely at home with your bounty there are many ways to go. I always quickly sort out any weeds and other fluff from the leaves and stand them in water. That way they stay fresh in the fridge for a couple of days and even up to a week. If you cut them into nice little pieces they can be frozen - just remember to shake the bag every now and then while they are freezing. You should do that to ensure that your wild garlic freezes loosely and doesn't form a clump.
Have fun picking wild garlic in your area, it's a very healthy herb to cook with. For recipes using wild garlic click any of the pictures below.