From early March in the south of England and mid to late March in Scotland wild garlic, Allium ursinum a relative of chives, onions and normal garlic can be seen growing. In sheltered spots you may see it hanging on until late July but that’s an exception rather than a rule. Wild garlic is generally at its peak from April to June and when they flower in it is a sight and smell that rivals a bluebell woodland for its beauty.
The season is due, in part, to the behaviour of trees. Bluebells and wild garlic are both plants that don’t tolerate full sun but like partial shade; and they make the most of the daylight hitting the forest floor before the leaves on the broad leaved trees start to grow, blocking out much of the sun. They can also be found under ancient hedgerows and on river banks where they get the right light/shade ratio.
It’s often cited that Wild garlic, also known as Ramsoms, l’ail des ours, Broad Leaved Garlic, Stinking Jenny, Bear Garlic and Jack’s snatch can be confused with the poisonous Lily of the valley and Autumn crocus so do ensure you know what you are picking, the smell should really be the biggest giveaway as wild garlic smells like garlic Lilly of the Valley is also rather course to the touch and slightly paler than wild garlic. Truth is they are fairly easy to tell apart.
When foraging for wild garlic be sure that you are picking just wild garlic and that no other potentially poisonous leaves get mixed up with your pickings. I once accidently ate a leaf of Lords and ladies (Arum maculatum) which started to burn my mouth, and if I hadn’t spat it out I could have blistered my throat and carked it. Really though this is a minor consideration and shouldn’t put you off.
Once picked wild garlic is great to just throw in with other foods when cooking, I’d suggest a few leaves thrown in when you are wilting spinach or in soups and stocks, stuffing for a chicken. Also, the leaves freeze very well and each year I’ll throw a carrier bag full straight in the freezer and pick at the leaves as and when I need them.
Simple Wild garlic and nettle soup.
Nettles start to appear at this time of year too, when picking you can wear gloves but if you are feeling truly wild they can be picked without stinging as long as you “grasp the nettle”, that is to say as long as you clutch it tight when picking, but really I recommend gloves!
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 red onion
1 tbsp unsalted butter
100g nettle tips
50g young wild garlic
1 tbsp Cider vinegar
750ml vegetable stock
Melt the butter, then fry the onion and mustard seeds until softened. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Chop up the nettles and wild garlic then throw in and simmer for 5 minutes until the leaves are tender. Grate in the nutmeg, season, liquidize and serve. You can add a dollop of fresh cream, natural yoghurt or crème fresh.