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.
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.
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 likes damp ground where it will grow in abundance, with hundreds of green leaves growing on a single green stem. Some of the best places to see, and to smell wild garlic in the UK include:
- Janet’s Foss near Malham, Yorkshire Dales
- Arnos Vale, Bristol
- Lydford Gorge, Devon
- The Woods at Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire
- Gribbin Head, Cornwall
- Rampsholme Island, Derwentwater, Cumbria
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.
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.
Wild garlic recipe ideas
River Cottage chef Gill Meller has created three delicious wild garlic recipes to rustle up using your foraged finds
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.
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.
- 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
These bhajis have become a River Cottage classic. They are cracking with a good curry or served with drinks as a little appetiser.
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.
(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
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.
- 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
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.
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