Common name: Wild garlic, ramson, bear’s garlic, broad-leaved garlic, gypsy’s onions, wood garlic, buckrams, stinking Jenny
Botanical name: Allium ursinum
Family: Amaryllidaceae (Amaryllis)
Subfamily: Allioideae (Onion)
Worldwide distribution: Native to Europe and Asia. Introduced in North America.
Local distribution: Common in Ireland and the British Isles, except further north Scotland and the Channel Islands.
Habitat: Ancient woodland and shaded hedgerows.
Foraging season: Leaves late winter to early summer and flowers late spring to mid-summer.
Wild garlic is one of the earliest greens to poke through the soil in spring. These glossy, pointed leaves are extremely prolific plants at this time of the year and are a gift to the wild gourmet.
Ramsons, as are also known, like damp soil and will grow in full shade, in the same sorts of places as bluebells grow, like shady banked verges of hedgerows and ancient woodland.
Beautiful star-shaped flowers signal the imminent end of the wild garlic season and shortly after the bloom droops away, the leaves start to wither and die back.
It can look similar to lilly of the valley (Convallaria majalis) or autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), but it’s easy to recognise ramsons because the leaves smell so distinctly of garlic.
All parts are edible and taste of garlic, but it is the leaves of the plant that are mainly collected. Although the smell is very pungent, the flavour of wild garlic is not as powerful as the conventional garlic (Allium sativum).
You can use it in omelettes, soups, stir fries and a sort of pesto sauce, which is very popular amongst foragers. The leaves can be preserved by lacto fermentation and the flower buds can be pickled like capers.