Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is a perennial plant in the garlic and onion family (Allium) also known as ramsons, ramps, bear leek, bear’s garlic, wood garlic or broad-leaved garlic. It grows in moist and slightly acidic soil in deciduous woodlands.
Like cultivated garlic, it contains Allicin, a compound with antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiseptic and antioxidant properties.
While not as medicinally potent as the cultivated garlic, it still has many health benefits. When eaten, it leaves no garlic breath, an undoubted advantage. It is used to:
- Treat high blood pressure – Effective in reducing blood pressure. Lower blood pressure reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease
- Prevent arteriosclerosis – Prevents the hardening of arteries
- Lower cholesterol levels – May activate macrophages which reduce the synthesis of LDL cholesterol
- Thin the blood – Helps increase blood vessel width. It may also reduce blood thickness.
Wild garlic is traditionally made into a highly nutritious soup. Or cooked like spinach and eaten as a side dish or added to stews. The leaves can be blitzed up as a very tasty pesto or sauce and enjoyed as a condiment in savory dishes.
What parts of the plant to use
All parts of the plant are edible. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach and taste deliciously garlicky. The bulbs can be sautéed like shallots. They have a mild, garlicky flavor and make a perfect addition to spring salads. During mild winters, the leaves can be harvested as early as the middle of January. The gorgeous flowers taste stronger than the leaves and make a very decorative and tasty addition to spring salads. They can still be eaten as the seed pods are forming if you don’t mind the stronger garlicky flavor.
Similarity to poisonous plants
The leaves of wild garlic are similar to those of the poisonous lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). Sometimes Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) and Wild Arum (Arum maculatum), both poisonous, are also mistaken for wild garlic. Correct identification is, therefore, very important to avoid poisoning.
It is easy to tell wild garlic and lily of the valley apart. The flowers are very different. While wild garlic has a clustered globe of white flowers at the end of an upright stem, lily of the valley has drooping bell-shaped flowers arranged along a stem. Wild garlic blooms in April and May, while lily of the valley typically flowers in May and June. It’s only when they are not in bloom that they look similar.
The leaves of wild garlic (Allium ursinum) and Wild Arum (Arum maculatum) look similar when they first sprout. When unfolded, the leaves of wild arum have irregular edges and many deep veins, while wild garlic leaves have a single main vein.
The leaves of lily of the valley come from a single purple stem, while wild garlic leaves have individual green colored stems.
When crushed between the fingers, the leaves of wild garlic ooze a distinct garlicky smell. While this is helpful, it is not enough to identify the plant. Below are the main differences between wild garlic and its poisonous counterparts:
- the leaves of wild garlic have individual green colored stems that are triangular in shape. Each leaf emanates singly from the base of the plant
- the leaves of smell strongly of garlic while the leaves of the other three poisonous plants do not
- the leaves have a different structure. They are convex and have a single main vein.
Foraging and wildcrafting
Wild garlic is prolific from March to May. Look for plants away from traffic, pollution and trail borders. When foraging or wildcrafting, go deeper into the patch for cleaner plants and make sure to pick only healthy, undamaged plants. Wash them well before using. Make sure it is wild garlic! If picking bulbs, be sure you’re not picking in a protected forest or nature reserve.
Grow your own wild garlic
It’s easy to grow wild garlic in the garden. Just dig up a few bulbs in the summer after the plant has died down and plant them immediately in a shady area, ideally under deciduous trees, where the soil is moist and not waterlogged. Water well. You’ll be delighted with a crop the following year.
You can also pick the seeds and plant them right away in situ. It germinates well and will grace you with a decent crop in the third year of growth when it first flowers.
Wild garlic can be invasive so keep it tamed. If you have fruit trees, plant the bulbs under them. The anti fungal properties of Allicin benefit fruit trees, making them more resistant to pests and diseases.
Wild garlic is an excellent companion plant in the garden. It grows well with most plants except those in the legume, pea and bean family (Leguminosae)