2 May 2014

Wild garlic

Until a few years ago, wild garlic grew relatively undisturbed in woodlands in much of the English countryside, picked only by a few aged foragers clutching their battered copies of Richard Mabey's classic 1970s book 'Food for Free'. Suddenly wild garlic is on nearly every restaurant menu at this time of year. I'm a fan of the stuff, and have been picking it for years. It's great it has now become so popular.

Wild garlic, also known as ramsons, can be found, often in abundance, in large swathes in woodlands during the early and mid spring. It gives off a distinctive garlicky smell, which will often be the first sign that it is nearby. Once you know what you are looking for, its broad tapering leaves are easily recognised. (Although as with all foraging, you should only ever eat plants you have positively identified.) As spring moves into April, it produces pretty, white flower clusters.

The leaves and flowers can both be eaten. Wild garlic bulbs can also be used, in much the same way as farmed garlic. If you just pick some leaves and or flowers, the plant can grow back, whereas if  you dig up the bulbs it won't, for which reason I stick to the leaves and flowers.

I have come across the leaves used raw in salads. I'm not a huge fan of using wild garlic raw - it has a pungent flavour like raw farmed garlic, which lingers in the mouth. The flowers are slightly milder and can be used raw, much like chive flowers. Wild garlic leaves don't need much heat to take away their pungency though, and can be thrown onto a hot dish shortly before serving so they just wilt a little. I recently had a great dish of mussels with wild garlic at Polpetto on Berwick Street, which was delicious. I like to chop the leaves finely with parsley and lemon zest to make a great gremolata, which can be sprinkled onto ragu or stews. Wild garlic soup is also very good.

It is possible to buy wild garlic bulbs for planting. In fact, wild garlic is now grown commercially to satisfy the huge demand from restaurants. I bought some bulbs last autumn from the Organic Garden Catalogue, and popped them into some shady corners of the garden, where they have grown well. They will also do well in pots.

Wild garlic - in pots on the patio
Wild garlic recipes on Room for a Radish: wild garlic pesto, wild garlic soup, veal chops with marsala wine and wild garlic.


  1. Thanks for this - very timely because I've seen bunches of this sold at the Brockley market and had absolutely no idea how to eat it!

  2. Get yourself some in quick - the season is almost over!