Stroll along the riverbank, or in any bit of woodland in the spring, and there’s a high chance you will catch the unmistakable whiff of wild garlic.
April tends to be the peak month for wild garlic (aka ransoms) and apart from the odour, you can recognise them for their habit of growing in large colonies, carpeting the ground like bluebells just before the trees are fully leaved. Lookalikes include Lilly of the Valley, and Lords and Ladies which often grows among them. Both of these are poisonous, but they don’t smell anywhere near the same, so engage your nose and pick with care!
Like nettles, wild garlic is prolific. It is also delicious and extrememly good for you. Along with vitamins A & B that may benefit the circulation, it contains a substance called allicin, known for its antibacterial and antimicrobial effects. The tight flower buds, open white flowers, and the small bulbs are all edible, but it is the quill-like leaves that are the main prize. Their flavour is milder when young, before the flowers have opened in fact; afterwards they become more pungent.
Typical of its plant family, the allium, it is as versatile in the kitchen as onions, leeks, chives and the more common cultivated garlic. Use them raw in salads, as a pesto, in mayonnaise or dressings. Use also to garnish any number of soups and savoury dishes. They have a natural affinity for cheese, eggs, or potatoes, and will perk up an grain-based staple like rissotto, pasta or breads/biscuits. Add them to cooked dishes at the last minute where they will wilt down as quickly as spinach.
It is easy to find cooked recipes for this spring-time green on the internet – but it is perfectly suited to no cooking, too, as this selection of raw recipes for wild garlic proves.
The season is short, and they will be past their best in June, so get outdoors and sniff out some now.