Gathering and Cooking With Wild Garlic

Less pungent wild garlic adds subtle flavor

Woodland Wild Garlic
Elaine Lemm

Wild garlic is a bulbous, perennial plant which grows wild in damp woodlands, and is often found in marshlands (fenlands) or near water drainage ditches in Britain and throughout Europe. The botanical name is Allium ursinum, and it is also known as ransoms, buckrams, bear's garlic, devil's garlic, gypsy's onions, and stinking Jenny. It is a wild relative of chives.

You can find wild garlic during a walk in the woods—perhaps by a river or stream—from mid-winter to late spring where the ground is damp. On even a mildly sunny day, when the sun will have warmed the leaves, there will be an aroma of garlic, so you may smell it before you see it. Just look down and around you and it will not be hard to spot wild garlic's glossy, green leaves. 

The Look and Smell of Wild Garlic

Wild garlic is made up of a bulb, stem, leaves, and white, star-shaped flowers. As the name implies, wild garlic has a distinctive flavor of garlic, though it is not as heavy or pungent as garlic cloves. Pick a leaf and gently squeeze it, then take a sniff—it will smell garlicky. If you are foraging for wild garlic, keep in mind it does resemble lily of the valley plants, which are poisonous, but one rub of the leaves will identify which it is so there is no chance you'd mix them up.

Cooking With Wild Garlic

All parts of the plant—bulb, leaves, and flowers—are edible. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and they make a useful addition to bland foods such as a cream or cottage cheese. They can also be used in a pesto in place of basil or other herbs, or in a sauce for a background hint of garlic. You may want to add finely chopped wild garlic to mashed potatoes and serve them with roast lamb or other meats. It is also delicious tossed into a salad, providing a nice, unexpected flavor. Basically, wild garlic can be used in a similar way to garlic cloves but just keep in mind the flavor will be less pronounced. Cooking depletes the garlic taste, so add it at the end of cooking time to retain more flavor.

Once the leaves are starting to lose their pungency, the flowers will appear—these too are edible. You can use the flowers as a decoration or add to a salad. Make sure you have cleaned them thoroughly to remove any insects which may have made their home inside the flower. 

Storing Wild Garlic

It is important you store wild garlic properly to avoid it drying out. The best method to keep wild garlic fresh is to place in a glass of water—bulb-side down—and store it in the refrigerator, where it will last for at least a week.

Wild Garlic is Good For You

Wild garlic has long been used for medicinal health throughout the world, known for its many "anti" qualities, including antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antioxidant. Wild garlic is both an antibiotic and antibacterial, aids in digestion, and is known for helping in reducing blood pressure (as all garlic does but wild garlic has the greatest effect) as it is a vasodilator.