Foraging for Wild Garlic/Ransoms
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) is often located through the nose of the forager rather than the eye. The unmistakable smell permeates the air of the woodlands and riverbanks it populates. I confess to probably eating more of this wild plant than any other over the years, making use of the roots, leaves, flowers and seedheads throughout the year in a variety of ways.
Wild Garlic, aka Ransoms is one of our most easily located and common wild foods in the U.K. It tends to prefer shady areas that retain moisture, but otherwise is quite hardy and will survive some pretty tough conditions. It is often found at roadsides and along the edges of waterways. The main identifying features are:
– Long, thin waxy dark green leaves that when crushed smell strongly of garlic (difficult to find anything else that does!)
– Small, white star-shaped flowers that turn to tiny green seedheads in summer.
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) is a relative to wild chives. The latin name makes reference to the Ursus genus (Bears) because of the Brown Bear’s habit of digging up the roots of Wild Garlic to eat. It is an indicator of Ancient Woodland, and can often be found near Bluebells (Hyacinthoides_non-scripta).
Using and Finding
If you wander along quiet shady country roads and tracks in March/April it will not be long before you come across a likely spot for locating this pungent edible. The leaves and flowers can be easily harvested above ground, and the edible root can also be harvested if you the legal permission to do so.
It can be eaten raw, but is much better cooked, either entire or chopped into soups, casseroles and other dishes. It can be used anywhere kitchen garlic would be – but is best used fresh.
If you know where Wild Garlic grows then you can find it out of season by digging into the topsoil in that area and digging up the bulbs. However, this requires a legal permission to do so, prevents the regrowth of the plants and can have misidentification issues.
The only exception to this is the tiny green ‘seeds’ (the remnants of the tiny white flowers) suit pickling – and this is a great way to make this distinctive flavour last all year, using these pickled seeds as tiny, garlicy capers.
The Russians sometimes salt Wild Garlic stems, and it has been used as a main ingredient in soups across Europe for centuries.
Things to watch out for…
The main problem that people hunting for Wild Garlic can get into is a misidentification with Arum Lily(AKA Cuckoo Pint, Lords and Ladies etc) (Arum macalatum) which begins to appear above ground at the same time as Wild Garlic, and has similar leaves. Although not outrightly poisonous, Arum does have some serious health hazards and should be avoided. Luckily however, it does not smell anything like garlic!
We have dedicated an entire blog post to the problems of misidentifying Wild Garlic and Arum here.