Foraging Diaries - Wild Garlic - Allium ursinum
"Walking through the forest, there was a gentle breeze, the pungent smell of Garlic floated through the air. I looked around and sure enough, there it was, a large carpet of Wild Garlic covering the forest floor"
Height: up to 50 cm
Leaves: long, spear-shaped, fresh green leaves
Flowers: tiny clusters of star-like, white flowers (April-June)
Root and stem: onion-like sprouting a triangular stem
Foliage: patchy coverage in some areas and creating a woodland carpet in others
Status: Perennial. Native
Habitat: Deciduous woodland, hedgerows, river banks
Parts used for food: Young leaves, flowers, flower bud, seeds, root
Harvest Time: February to April
Also known as Ramsons, Ramsomes, Wild Leek, Buckrams, Broad-leaves garlic, Wood garlic, Gipsy Onion, Hog's Garlic, Bear Leek or Bear’s garlic. Wild Garlic grows in damp woodland, can often be found in marshlands or near water drainage ditches in Britain and throughout Europe.
The reference to bears, comes from the belief that bears ate Wild Garlic to regain their strength after their Winter hibernation. Ursinum is Latin for bear. In magical traditions, plants of the bear contain the power of renewal and purification Wild Garlic is easily identified by its distinctive smell, long pointed leaves and white flowers which bloom at the end of the season. Don’t pick Wild Garlic which has large amounts of white flowers, as this indicates older leaves which are likely to be slightly woody and bitter in flavour.
The pungent smell of garlic makes it easy to identify, but always take care when foraging your own ingredients, there have been cases of people mistaking poisonous plants, such as Lily of the Valley for Wild Garlic.
When it comes to foraging a good rule of thumb to abide by:
If in doubt, leave it out
A less well-known table vegetable than its domesticated relative, Wild Garlic is a truly tasty culinary treat. It can be used in the same way as any herb or green. Wilt into dishes, mixing with Spinach or Sea Beet works well, as a lot of Wild Garlic can sometimes be overpowering. Add to omelettes, dips, cream cheese or sauces. Use as a side to fish, and can also be used in salads using the leaves or the flowers, and to make Garlic butter or Garlic mayonnaise. As it is best picked in Spring there are various ways you can preserve it to use later on, add to Olive Oil and freeze in ice-cubes, perfect sized portions to add to dishes. The leaves can also be frozen or made into pesto, if dried though it loses much of it's flavour. The possibilities are endless, enjoy experimenting.
Widely known for its antibacterial, antibiotic and possibly antiviral properties, and contains vitamins A and C, the leaves per 100g contain 45g of vitamin C and around 5mg of beta carotene calcium, the bulbs are a significant source of energy with around 16g of carbohydrate per 100g and have 16mg of vitamin C and more than 2mg of protein. The plant also contains iron, phosphorus, sodium and copper. Studies have shown that it may help reduce blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Although all garlic has these benefits, Wild Garlic is thought to be the most effective.
"Eat leeks in Lide [March] and ramsins in May And all the year after physitians may play" CN French, A Countryman's Day Book (1929)
The German Commission E is a scientific advisory board of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices formed in 1978. The commission gives scientific expertise for the approval of substances and products previously used in traditional, folk and herbal medicine. They warn that individuals who are allergic to the allium family may experience foul breath, rare gastrointestinal tract irritations, or other allergic reactions as a result of taking Wild Garlic. Further the sulphides in the plant might also irritate the gastrointestinal tract or cause dermatosis.
Wild Garlic, like its domesticated relative, has potential blood-thinning effects, which could make it unsuitable for people already taking blood-thinning medicine or who are at risk of conditions affected by blood thinning. It can also cause side effects such as flatulence and heartburn if eaten in too large a quantity.
Harford, R (2019) 'Wild Garlic Notebook' The Foragers' Notebook Series
RHS (2021) https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/879/i-Allium-ursinum-i/Details (Accessed: 07/04/2021)