Wild garlic

Ramslök

Wild garlic in flower in southern England

In the spring, wild garlic covers the floors of deciduous forests in Sweden and many other woodland areas in Europe. Once established it spreads and so is generally found covering an area of an acre or more. It prefers damp slightly acidic soil and flowers before deciduous trees come into leaf. In Sweden and in the UK it is at its best in April and May. Once the trees come into leaf the plants tend to wither.

Other names

• allium ursinum,
• ramsons,
• buckrams,
• broad-leaved garlic,
• wood garlic,
• bear's garlic.

What can be eaten?

All parts of the plant (bulb, leaves and flowers) can be eaten, but most people only eat the leaves.

What does it taste like?

It does taste like garlic, though not as heavy or as pungent. In someways it is more like chives, to which it is related. The softness of the leaves and their mild garlicky taste means they can be used in a similar way to spinach and garlic.

The flowers are very edible and tend to have a stronger flavour than the leaves and make an attractive garnish.

The bulbs are very small and are not normally picked.

When is the best time to pick it?

Wild garlic in flower in southern England

April and May is the best time to pick wild garlic, preferably before the plants come into flower. By the time the plants are in flower the leaves are sometimes too big and can be a little bitter, but it is still worth picking, being careful to avoid any very big leaves or any starting to turn brown.

Once the trees come into leaf, shortly after wild garlic comes in flower, the leaves will start to turn brown, the plants will whither and so it is definitely not worth picking. 

Is it easy to pick?

Wild garlic leaves

Yes! The main thing is to check that it is wild garlic and not Lily of the Valley, which is poisonous. Rub the leaves and the garlicky smelly should be very apparent.

Simply pick the leaves or cut them with a pair of scissors, but make sure you don't pick too much so that the plants will come again next year.

How much do you need?

A bowl of wild garlic

A big handful, as shown above, is sufficient to make a small jar of pesto. For soup you need about 200 grams, about a third of a carried bag should be ample.

Can you buy wild garlic?

Bunches of wild garlic on a stall in London's Borough Market

You can occasionally find bunches of wild garlic for sale in food markets, but they are quite expensive. The bunches shown above were £2 each (about €3) and were for sale at London's Borough Market.

Wild Garlic Day

In 2014 a Ramslöks Dag (Wild Garlic Day) was introduced in Sweden on the fourth Saturday in May. It seems to have been established by the tourist industry to get more people to visit Kinnekulle, an area in Västergotland where a lot of wild garlic grows, but nonetheless it will be interesting to see whether Ramslöks Dag becomes established in Sweden's culinary calendar.

How is it used?

A jar of wild garlic pesto

It can be eaten raw or cooked. Rather like spinach, it wilts considerably on cooking. Pesto is probably the most popular use, but other uses include in:

soup,
• salads,
• omelettes,
• mashed potato,
• bread,
• sauces.
• and as a pizza topping.

Can you grow your own?

Yes, but you do need a large garden, preferably with a woodland area as it does like to spread! You can find suppliers online.

John Duxbury

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