Not Just Ramsons.
Foraging for the Five Most Common Species of Wild Garlic.

Wild garlic allium ursinum growing with bluebells in Chalkney woods, Essex

Although ram­sons are our best known and most abun­dant wild gar­lic it is not the only wild plant with a strong gar­lic flavour to grace these shores.

When we think of wild gar­lic ram­sons spring imme­di­ate­ly to mind. This beloved native plant floods many of our wood­lands with the heady scent of gar­lic every spring. Its abun­dance and use­ful­ness in the kitchen has long made ram­sons a sea­son­al sta­ple for for­agers. Few how­ev­er are aware that Britain is host to oth­er species of wild gar­lic, some native and some nat­u­ralised. In this arti­cle we look at some com­mon­ly found wild plants with a gar­lic flavour. Four are rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the onion fam­i­ly Alli­um, and one mem­ber of the hedge mus­tard fam­i­ly Alliaria.

Ramsons

Alli­um ursinum, also known as ram­sons or bear gar­lic, is the ubiq­ui­tous wild gar­lic abun­dant across much of Europe. This is pri­mar­i­ly a plant of moist and shady wood­lands, fre­quent­ly found grow­ing in very high den­si­ties. Ram­sons can also be found grow­ing on the banks of rivers and streams.

The bright green, broad, ellip­ti­cal lance­o­late shaped leaves begin to emerge from the bulbs in late May and can reach up to 20cm in length and 5cm in width. Flow­ers begin to open in late April and con­sist of a sin­gle spher­i­cal clus­ter or umbel con­tain­ing many indi­vid­ual flower heads each with 5 petals. The flower stalks have a tri­an­gu­lar cross-sec­tion. All parts of the plant will smell strong­ly of gar­lic if rubbed between your fin­gers. When in flower ram­sons effuse the unmis­tak­able scent of gar­lic into the air. 

All parts of the plant are edi­ble. The leaves are best har­vest­ed before flow­er­ing, the qual­i­ty deceas­ing rapid­ly once the plant begins to set seed. The flow­ers have a more sub­tle taste than the leaves and are par­tic­u­lar­ly good as the buds first break open. Beware of har­vest­ing small pollen eat­ing insects along with the flower heads! Do not har­vest the bulbs, the leaves and flow­ers are by far the best parts of the plant in terms of flavour anyhow.

The flower buds and stalks are great for fer­ment­ing or pick­ling. Check out our fer­ment­ed wild gar­lic buds recipe and vine­gar pick­led wild gar­lic bud recipe.

Please for­age for these plants respon­si­bly. If you see evi­dence of over-pick­ing or tram­pling of a wild gar­lic colony please think again and look else­where. Keep waste to a min­i­mum and col­lect only what you need.

The Three-Cornered Leek

Alli­um tri­quetrum is most com­mon­ly known as the three cor­nered leek or snow bell. This wild gar­lic orig­i­nates from south­ern Europe. Escaped into the wild from gar­dens this plant is nat­u­ralised in the UK, albeit con­fined to warmer coastal and south­ern regions. Look for the three cor­nered leek along hedgerows, wood­land edges, verges and in gardens.

The long thin leaves fea­ture a pro­nounced ‘V’ shaped pro­file and begin to emerge in late March grow­ing up to 30cm in length and 2cm wide. By late April the flow­ers emerge con­sist­ing of a clus­ter of indi­vid­ual heads with 6 petals, each with a bright green stripe. The flow­ers are car­ried atop a long stalk with an obvi­ous tri­an­gu­lar, three-point­ed cross sec­tion. It is this stalk that gives this plant its com­mon name. If rubbed between your fin­gers the plant will smell strong­ly of garlic.

Like the ram­son all parts of the three cor­nered leek are edi­ble, the flavour can be described as a pleas­ant cross between gar­lic, onion and chives. The leaves and stalks are a less ten­der than the oth­ers fea­tured here and ben­e­fit from being har­vest­ed ear­ly in the sea­son. The plants can also be uproot­ed, the long bulbs are par­tic­u­lar­ly good eat­ing used as an alter­na­tive to leeks or spring onions. As this species is often high­ly inva­sive I would encour­age har­vest­ing as many as you can in this way.

Few-Flowered Garlic

Alli­um para­dox­um the few-flow­ered gar­lic or few flow­ered leek is anoth­er gar­den escapee wide­ly nat­u­ralised across the Unit­ed King­dom. A native to the moun­tains of the Cau­ca­sus and Iran this species is con­sid­ered to be inva­sive across much of Europe. It is asso­ci­at­ed with many of the places you might expect to find ram­sons, damp wood­lands and the bank sides of rivers and streams. Like ram­sons it often grows in dense car­pets of abun­dant plants.

By ear­ly May leaves begin to emerge from the soli­tary bulbs fol­lowed by the flower stalks and buds by the first week of April. The long, thin, bright green leaves reach around 24cm long and 2.5cm wide with a pro­nounced fur­row on the under­sides and ridge along their tops. As sug­gest­ed by its com­mon name the few-flow­ered gar­lic is notice­able in pro­duc­ing only one or two small ster­ile flow­ers per plant. Instead this species repro­duces through a mass of small bulbs or bul­bils in a clus­ter on the top of the flower stalk. All parts of this plant smell strong­ly of gar­lic if rubbed between your fingers.

The flavour and tex­ture of the leaves can be described as being very sim­i­lar to ram­sons with a hint of chives. The bul­bils and flow­ers are also edi­ble. The small 1.5cm bulbs have a milder flavour, they can be lift­ed after the plants die back in sum­mer and then stored suc­cess­ful­ly for a num­ber of months.

This is the best wild gar­lic for mak­ing wild gar­lic pesto. Check out our sim­ple wild gar­lic pesto recipe.

Crow Garlic

Alli­um vineale known as crow gar­lic or field gar­lic is a native species com­mon across most of the Unit­ed King­dom. Crow gar­lic often grows in open grass­lands and can be found in pas­tures, verges, wood­land edges and along the sides of hedgerows.

Crowoften grows in clumps. The leaves are long hol­low tubes, sim­i­lar to chives but ovoid with a pro­nounced ridge run­ning along one side. The plants achieve heights rang­ing from 30cm to over 80cm. Flow­er­ing is between April and July. Each bulb pro­duces a sin­gle stalk topped with a spher­i­cal mass of red coloured bul­bils and occa­sion­al­ly some tiny ster­ile white flow­ers. As the bul­bils mature they often sprout on the plant pro­duc­ing small hairy green filaments.

All parts of this plant are edi­ble. The flavour, a cross between onion and gar­lic, is some­times com­pared unfavourably with oth­er wild gar­lic species. Per­son­al­ly I like it a lot. The leaves are great eat­en raw in sal­ads or as a direct sub­sti­tute for chives. Fol­low­ing emer­gence of the flower stalks the leaves become much tougher and loose their flavour. Col­lect in either ear­ly spring or the ear­ly autumn when a sec­ond flush of leaf growth occurs after flow­er­ing has ceased.

Garlic Mustard

Our final oth­er species of wild gar­lic is Alliara peti­o­la­ta, known as jack in the hedge or hedge gar­lic. It dif­fers sig­nif­i­cant­ly from the oth­er plants list­ed here by being a mem­ber of the cab­bages fam­i­ly and not of the onions. It is a native plant wide­ly dis­trib­uted through­out the coun­try and typ­i­cal­ly found along hedgerows, ditch­es, embank­ments and the edges of wood­land paths and clearings.

Gar­lic mus­tard is a bien­ni­nal, grow­ing for two years. In its sec­ond spring it pro­duces a tall sin­gle stemmed plant up to 120cm in height. These plants fea­ture heart shaped leaves with toothed mar­gins 10cm to 15cm in length. The tiny four-petaled flow­ers open in late spring in small clusters.

The young leaves from the top of two year old plants have the best flavour and can be eat­en raw or cooked. The flow­ers are also edi­ble as are the long seed pods and tiny seeds. Gar­lic mus­tard has been used as a herb, veg­etable and med­i­c­i­nal plant for mil­len­nia. The flavour is a mix­ture of gar­lic and mus­tard but many will find the raw leaves a lit­tle to bit­ter for their tastes.

Wild Garlic Recipes

making pickled wild garlic buds in fermentation jars
Fer­ment­ed Wild Gar­lic Buds
Wild Gar­lic Pesto

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