Wild garlic (Ramsons)

Wild garlic leaves (Allium ursinum)
Wild garlic spends most of the year underground as a bulb before emerging in early spring. Its leaves have a strong garlic aroma and flavour, making them a versatile ingredient in the kitchen.

Table of Contents

Wild Garlic: Plant profile

Common names

Wild Garlic, Ramson, Bear’s Garlic, Broad-Leaved Garlic, Gypsy’s Onions, Wood Garlic, Buckrams, Stinking Jenny, Creamh, Ajo de los Osos (SP)

Botanical name

Allium ursinum

Plant family

Amaryllidaceae (Amaryllis), Subfamily: Allioideae (Onion)

Distribution

Native to Europe and Asia, and introduced in North America. Commonly found in many areas of the British Isles. However, its distribution becomes less prevalent in more northerly regions such as Scotland and the Channel Islands.

Where to find Wild Garlic

Wild garlic is particularly fond of ancient woodlands and shaded hedgerows. In these environments, the plant thrives in moist, nutrient-rich soils and can form dense carpets of lush green leaves during the spring months.

When to find Wild Garlic

Leaves late winter to early summer and flowers late spring to mid-summer.

How to identify Wild Garlic

Wild garlic grow in clumps that emerge from an underground bulb. The plant’s long, lance-shaped leaves (lanceolate) are green and have a single main vein. Younger leaves tend to be narrower than mature leaves.

The flowerhead grows from a leafless stalk and is initially enclosed within a green covering, spathe. As the flowerhead matures, it becomes globe-shaped and is formed by numerous six-petalled white flowers.

The plant’s seeds are contained within green triple-seed pods that eventually turn black as they mature.

One of the most distinctive features of the ramsons plant is its pungent garlic odor. When the plant is bruised or crushed, it releases a strong garlic scent that is unmistakable. For this reason, it’s easy to identify wild garlic even before you see it.

Wild garlic lookalikes

Wild garlic may resemble poisonous plants such as Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) or Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale), but unlike these plants, it has a strong garlic odour that is unmistakable.

Another plant that can be confused with Ramsons is Lords & Ladies (Arum maculatum), which has similar-looking leaves when young and grows in the same habitat. Avoid picking this plant by mistake, as Lords & Ladies can be toxic if ingested.

To ensure you’re picking wild garlic and not a lookalike, always check for the distinctive garlic smell and taste and examine the leaves and flowerheads carefully. If you’re not sure about a plant’s identity, it’s best to err on the side of caution and leave it alone.

Wild garlic leaves (Allium ursinum)

All about Wild Garlic

Wild garlic is one of the first greens to emerge from the soil in the spring. The glossy, pointed leaves of this plant are highly prolific during this time of the year and are a prized ingredient in the wild gourmet’s kitchen.

Ramsons, as they are also known, prefer damp soil and can be found growing in full shade, often in the same locations as bluebells, such as along shaded banked verges of hedgerows and in ancient woodlands.

In late spring, beautiful star-shaped flowers bloom, signalling the end of the wild garlic season. Shortly after the flowers wilt and fall away, the leaves begin to wither and die back, marking the end of the harvest for the year.

Medicinal properties of Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic shares many of the same health benefits as regular garlic (Allium sativum). Both plants contain high levels of allicin, a compound that is believed to have antibacterial and antifungal properties, as well as potential cardiovascular benefits.

Culinary uses and recipes with Wild Garlic

All parts of the wild garlic plant are edible and have a distinctive garlic flavour, although it’s primarily the leaves that are harvested for culinary use. While the smell of wild garlic is pungent, the flavour is milder than that of conventional garlic (Allium sativum).

Wild garlic leaves can be used in omelettes, soups, and stir-fries — though wild garlic pesto is particularly popular among British foragers. Lacto-fermentation is a method to preserve the leaves, which can enhance their flavor and nutritional value.

The flower buds of wild garlic can also be harvested and pickled, similar to capers. These make a tasty and unique addition to salads or can be used as a garnish.

Overall, wild garlic is a versatile and flavorful ingredient that can be used in many different ways in the kitchen. Its availability is limited to the spring season, which makes it all the more special for those who enjoy foraging and cooking with wild foods.

Wild garlic flowers (Allium ursinum)

Safe foraging of Wild Garlic

While wild garlic is safe for human consumption, it should be consumed in moderation and not in excessive amounts.

It’s also important to note that wild garlic can be toxic to dogs and other pets.

Ecological importance of Wild Garlic

Wild garlic is a valuable indicator species of ancient woodlands, although it should not be relied upon as the sole indicator. Its appearance in woodlands can suggest that the land has been wooded for a long time, as wild garlic is slow to colonise new areas.

In early spring, the plant produces beautiful white flowers that attract a variety of pollinators, including bees, moths, hoverflies, and beetles. These insects play a crucial role in pollinating the plant and ensuring its survival.

Wild garlic is also an primary host plant for the ramsons hoverfly (Portevinia maculata). The larvae feed on the bulbs of the wild garlic plant, and they overwinter there. Other animals, including badgers, squirrels, and wild boars, also consume the bulbs.

Sustainable Wild Garlic foraging

Wild garlic may appear endlessly abundant in well-established areas, but it’s crucial to remember that other species have evolved to rely on its abundance. Repeated cutting of wild garlic year after year can weaken and eventually reduce once-dense colonies.

To maintain the sustainability of these ecosystems, it’s recommended to thin out the excess by spreading your picking across different locations within a season and from year-to-year. It’s also best to avoid stripping large areas at once.

When harvesting wild garlic, it’s preferable to hand-pick a few leaves from each plant rather than harvesting entire clumps by cutting them off at the base. Also, gather from the middle of colonies instead of the edges, allowing the plant to keep expanding.

By following these practices, you can help preserve the abundance of wild garlic for years to come, while supporting the delicate balance of the surrounding ecosystem.

Easy foraging - Free Ebook

Want to improve your foraging skills?

Join my newsletter to get a FREE ebook and receive plant profiles, seasonal reminders and foraging tips.

You agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy 

Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

I am the human behind BritishLocalFood. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

Liked it? Share with friends!

1 thought on “Wild garlic (Ramsons)”

Leave a comment