Foraging Wild Garlic
I am blogging a foraging a wild herb profile every month throughout the year & listing what is available to for the current month in the UK. Please be careful when foraging and refer to a guide book. My favourites are Food for Free by Richard Mabey, River Cottage Handbook no.7 Hedgerow by John Wright & The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler. Also be aware not to over forage as you need to leave enough food for the wildlife.
Wild Garlic Allium Ursinum from the liliaceae family
Folk Names: Bear’s Garlic, Bear’s Leek, Broad Leaved Garlic, Buckrams, Devil’s Garlic, Gypsy’s Onions, Moly, Ransoms, Ramp, Ramps, Ramsons, Roman Garlic, Stinkers, Stinking Jenny , Wood Garlic.
Appearance & habitat: Wild Garlic is a tall hairless perennial plant which grows in large numbers in damp, acidic soils in shaded deciduous woods/forests in most parts of Europe, Northern Asia & Northern America. Leaves can be harvested in January (if it is mild).
The leaves are broad, elliptical, shiny, spear-like and can grow up to 25cm long. The stem is long and triangular shaped. The flowers are white, star shaped, in a round umbel with 8-12 segments. The plant gives off a sweetly pungent, strong garlic scent and tastes more like chives, and gentler than conventional garlic. They tend to flower before trees get their leaves in April to June, and this is what gives off the yeasty-garlicy smell that is a giveaway sign of wild garlic. The leaves are very similar to Lilly-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis), Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) and Wild Arum (Arum maculatum) which are extremely poisonous so do take caution, only pick if it smells of garlic when crushed.
Culinary uses: Wild Garlic leaves can be substituted for garlic or spring onions, can be treated like spinach in eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, combined into sauces, butter, mayonnaise, dressings, soups, stews, omelettes, stir-fries, risotto, makes a fantastic pesto (see recipe) and can be boiled as a vegetable. Add it towards the end of cooking to preserve freshness. The leaves can be used as a wrap and compliments tomatoes. The bulb can also be eaten raw but digging up wild plants is not good for wildlife, the bulb is very small so is hardly worth the effort. The flowers can also be eaten as seed pods or flowers.
Nutrition & Benefits: Wild Garlic is rich in iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, manganese, copper, magnesium, traces of Selenium, antioxidants, Aallicin, Adenosine. Traditionally used as a spring tonic, to cleanse the blood and boost the immune system. It is beneficial for rheumatism, reducing high blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, asthma, emphysema, digestive problems and cleansing the blood. It has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that protect against free radicals. The juice can be used as a household disinfectant but I wouldn’t advise this because of the odour it gives off. The juice is good for weight loss and applied as a poultice to areas of rheumatic pain, arthritic joints, boils and abscesses. It increases the blood circulation locally.
History & Folklore: Wild Garlic is an indicator of ancient woodland and has been eaten for thousands of years. The first use of wild garlic can be traced to the Mesolithic period in Denmark from a archeoligical find, and to Neolithioc settlement, Thayngen-Weier in Switzerland, where there is a high concentration of pollen within the layer of the settlement.
The vernacular name Ramsons is from Anglo Saxon Old English Hramsa and Ramsey in Essex and Ramdale in Lincolnshire are places which take their name from the plant. Hramsa means Rank derived from the butter and milk of cow which have eaten Ramsons to be bitter or rank. Ramsdale derives from the Norse name Raumsdalr, meaning Valley of the River Rauma in Oppland and Møre og Romsdal in Norway. “Raum the Old”, son of King Nor is the legendary founder of Norway who is linked to the Raumi tribe. It was grown in monastic gardens as food according to an account from the 16th century.
According to Essex folklore, the allium family is one of the most useful plants in curing illnesses. Aubrey 1847 “Eat Leekes in March and ramsons in May And all the year after physicians may play”
It is known as Bear’s garlic/leek in Europe as brown bears where partial to digging up and eating the bulbs when they awoke from hibernation.
Recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto
100g Wild Garlic leaves
50g Parmesan cheese
50g toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
Lemon juice squeezed from half a lemon
Salt & pepper
Wash the leaves thoroughly and roughly chop with scissors. Pulse the pine nuts for a few seconds in a food processor, then add the leaves, olive oil & parmesan. Add lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste, if the pesto needs to be thinned add more oil.
Plants you may expect to find in June;
Borage leaves & flowers, Bellflower flowers, Bittercress, Brooklime, Broom, Common Chickweed, Common Fig, Common Mallow leaves, Common Orache, Common Sorrel, Darwin’s Barberry berries, Elderflower, Fairy-ring Champignon, Fat Hen, Fennel, Garlic Mustard, Garden Orache, Good King Henry, Gooseberry, Hastate Orache, Hawthorn, Hogweed, Lemonbalm, Nettle-leaved Bellflower flowers, Perennial Wall Rocket, Pignut, Marsh Samphire, Rampion, Red Goosefoot, Spearmint, Spear-leaved Orache, Stinging Nettle, Sea Beet, Shaggy Inkcap, Shepard’s Purse, St George’s Mushroom, Three-cornered garlic, Watercress, Watermint, Wild Leek, Wild Rose flowers, Wild Strawberry, Wild Thyme, Wood sorrel,.