hedgerow in spring
Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas

All about wild garlic

Stay healthy and forage for free food

Wild garlic is a common sight in woodlands and under hedgerows in the countryside from March onwards until it has flowered and the leaves have wilted in June. Where it appears it can be an indicator that it is an ancient woodland or hedgerow. Wild garlic bulbs are thought to be a favourite food of brown bears in Europe hence its name; Allium ursinum. Its common names include Ramsons, Wood Garlic, Buckrams, Broad-leaved Garlic, Bear Leek and Bear’s Garlic.

It is all edible, leaves, flowers and bulb and has been used as an herbal medicine for centuries as it has a whole host of health benefits. It can be used as a spring tonic or detox and to purify the blood, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It is also alleged to give relief from stomach complaints, chronic diarrhoea, constipation, flatulence, headaches, asthma, bronchitis and is thought to act as a preventative against colon cancer.

The leaves can be boiled and used as a disinfectant or to deter slugs and snails. The smell of the whole plant is also said to repel cats, so if you are a keen ornithologist it could be worth placing a few tubs around your bird feeder. All in all, it is well worth a walk in the countryside to pick a handful of leaves.

When you are foraging in woodland please make sure you have the landowner’s permission and that you avoid disturbing the habitat by making a lot of noise and trampling the vegetation. Only pick from a spot where it is abundant and never take the whole lot, leave plenty behind. Don’t remove the bulbs as that is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).  

Pick the leaves when they are young towards the end of March and April. Make sure you can correctly identify the plant as it looks very similar to Lily of the Valley which is poisonous if eaten. Just crush a leaf and the smell of the wild garlic will be unmistakable. Foraging not only gives you free food but also exercise and the chance to reconnect with nature which has been proved to benefit your mental health. Use a sharp penknife to sever the leaf stalks at the base and place in a plastic bag.

Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)

If you want to grow some yourself sow the seed directly into the soil from October to March or plant the bulbs towards the end of summer. It likes damp shade and slightly acidic soil, but think carefully about growing it in the garden as it is rampant and can soon take over an area. Growing in a container placed in the semi-shade may be the best option.

As a member of the onion family you can substitute the leaves for onion or garlic, the flowers not only look pretty on a salad but also deliver a nice kick. The taste of the leaves is milder than garlic so can also be finely chopped and used on garlic bread if you find true garlic a little pungent.

Wild Garlic Pesto (courtesy of Patisserie Makes Perfect)

  • 135g wild garlic; washed and dried
  • 60g parmesan; grated
  • 50g pine nuts
  • 150ml mild olive oil
  • ½ teasp salt

Blitz in a food processor until it forms a paste.

Store in the fridge in sterilised jars or you can store in the cupboard if you put a layer of olive oil on the top.

Wild Garlic and Potato Soup

  1. Fry a finely chopped onion until soft then add a finely diced potato and a bay leaf; fry for 5 minutes.
  2. Add 500ml of vegetable stock and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add a large handful of the wild garlic leaves and cook for another 2 minutes.
  4. Blitz and season.

If you want to just preserve the leaves, wash and dry then place in an airtight freezer bag and freeze. Freezing is preferable to drying as that process reduces the vitamin content. If you pick the leaves with some stalk they can be kept in the fridge in a glass of water.

Even if you don’t manage to find any leaves a walk in the countryside is always a great idea especially if you have children, there are masses of other things to collect or spot.