Learn To Forage With Us; How to Identify & Use Wild Garlic

Carpeting the floor of ancient woodlands this month and next, follow your nose and the intoxicating oniony scent will lead you to your Wild Garlic patch!

Wild Garlic was one of the first plants I learnt to identify as a teenager, and is still one of my favourites to forage today. I have been foraging, and teaching others to forage, for as long as i’ve been skating (almost 20 years!) and is the reason I decided to include guided walks and workshops as part of our 3 day residential skate retreats.

Learn to identify edible & poisonous plants at our Skate Wild Retreat this Oct

Those of you booked on to our Skate Wild retreat this October will get to join in on the guided foraging walks around our 42 acre forest venue in Norfolk, and whilst Wild Garlic will be long out of season, the site is an absolute haven for all manner of fauna, flora and fungi throughout Autumn that we’ll get to gather and cook up for our lunch.

For the next month or two though, it’s Wild Garlic that steals the limelight – I’ve put together an identification guide below so you can be certain it’s Wild Garlic that you’re picking, and if you’re still not sure then just take a bunch of pics and shoot us a DM on instagram, and I’d be happy to ID it for you!

Let’s look a bit closer…

Whilst Wild Garlic IS one of the easiest of the Spring edibles to identify, I can not stress enough the importance of diligent foraging. There ARE poisonous plants that whilst have seemingly obvious characteristics to tell them apart, they do quite often grow together in the same patch, and hasty pickings could make you very sick.

It’s worth getting to know what two plants in particular look like before filling your basket, these are ‘Lords & Ladies’ (Arum maculatum) and ‘Lily Of The Valley’ (Convallaria majalis). Both of these look vastly different to Wild Garlic once they are mature, but as young shoots they can look remarkably similar. Again – gather slowly, check each leaf, and use your nose to guide you.

Don’t let this put you off, the smell of Wild Garlic is unmistakable, and you can often smell it way before you spot it. Parks, estates & shady spots by streams and rivers are all places you can find Wild Garlic. Another handy thing to know is that in the UK, anything that smells of garlic or onions is actually edible! If you find ‘grass’ that smells of garlic, its likely to be Three Cornered Leek!

But, back to Wild Garlic – let’s look at some of its identifying features…

  • Grows from a bulb that looks like a single elongated garlic clove
  • Pointed, spear shaped leaves that start off quite slender, growing broader as they get bigger
  • Leaves have a single vein that runs down the middle
  • The underside of the leaves are a paler green, and matte, unlike the glossy top
  • Later in the season the plant will start to flower, and pointed buds will emerge from the base
  • Stems grow taller until eventually the plump buds sit above the leaves
  • Multiple flowers open out into a white ball shape, each flower containing 6 petals
Whole plant specimen before flowering. Showing bulb, leaf and bud.

PLEASE REMEMBER to harvest sustainably. Once you find a patch you’ll realise it grows in abundance, however it’s important to not get carried away in the face of a free bounty! Never take more than a leaf or two from each plant, and never take more than 5% from any one area. Be sure to only pick what you will use as not only are wild garlic flowers an important early food source for bees, but badgers & wild boar also love to dine on the bulbs too!

It is illegal to dig up any bulb, root, or tuber from any land that isn’t your own. Only the ’Four F’s’ are allowed to be gathered when foraging; Flowers, Foliage, Fruit & Fungi’

So you’ve found a patch and filled your basket, Now what?

Here is one of my two FAVE recipes for our seasonal pal, Wild Garlic. Try this nutritious pesto tossed into pasta, as a salad dressing or dip, stir into soup or mash potato, make a garlicky pesto butter, or keep it simple and just spread on bread!

Wild Garlic & Nettle Pesto recipe

This is a super nutritious pesto made with wild garlic and nettles. Both are high in vitamins A, C, D and all the B vitamins, as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron and folic acid to name just a few of the health benefits.

Wild garlic and nettles are also antibacterial, anti fungal, anti viral and anti pretty much everything… Good for your skin, digestive tract, respiratory system and helps shield from colds and influenza.

This recipe is pretty flexible – use olive oil if you don’t have rapeseed, use walnuts, almonds or pecans if you can’t find pine nuts, vegan ‘parmesan’ can be made from literally whatever you like – try hemp seeds, chia seeds, linseed, dried mushroom powder, even nutritional yeast for that savoury cheesy flavour. Or, just skip this ingredient and add more nuts.

The point is to try and use whatever is in your cupboard, popping out to your local river or woods to gather the greens!

Ingredients & Method

In a few weeks time, (or perhaps earlier if you’re south of the country), it will be time for the star of the show – the flower buds! Keep checking back or subscribe to our blog for our favourite Wild Garlic recipe!