Ingredient spotlight: Wild garlic

From provenance and history, to flavour and pairings - read our ingredient spotlight and deep dive into seasonal foraging favourite wild garlic.

Wild garlic is one of the most recognisable and widely foraged vegetables in the UK. Its unmistakeable entrance into the season is a welcome sign that spring is tantalisingly close, and the dark, miserable winter days are behind us for good – at least for another eight months.

Provenance and history
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is also known as ramsons, wild cowleek, cowlic or wood garlic. Native to temperate areas with acidic soil across Europe, the UK and Asia, throughout history it has been widely used as a natural remedy for various ailments. Today it’s still known for its health-boosting qualities, including digestion, immunity and heart health, and it’s known as the ‘magnesium king of plants’ for its high levels of the mineral. 

The leaves are a cross between a spring onion and traditional garlic, the flowers bring a hint of peppery cress, while the stems offer a slight memory of chives. It is a wonderful ingredient that blasts the taste of garlic into dishes without over-powering them with the spiciness that can be associated with conventional garlic. 

The leaves won’t tolerate much cooking, so it’s best to just add them chopped up at the end. Alternatively, stir through a mushroom risotto, bake into scones, or make your own flavoured salt. The bulbs can be used like conventional garlic, or they are delicious thinly sliced and added to salads. The stems and flowers make fantastic garnishes, or for something more challenging, try wild garlic gnocchi. 

Pairings or swaps
Most cuisines have a use for garlic, from chimichurri in South America to flavoured oils and stir fries in China. When raw, wild garlic is delicious paired with fresh herbs and zesty lemon, or used as a garnish such as in Italian gremolata. 

Other variations
Wild garlic is part of the allium family, which include onions, leeks, garlic, spring onions, and many more. The green shoots from fresh or ‘wet’ garlic can be used as a substitute  when wild garlic is not in season. 

Kitchen kit 
Fresh wild garlic leaves can be made into a fiery pesto or paste with a pestle and mortar. A garlic press is always useful for quickly crushing the bulbs.

Food waste tip
You can ferment garlic in honey, or make oils and preserves. Wild garlic leaves are best fresh, but can be stored for several days covered with a moist tea towel in the fridge. Or make a batch of pesto and freeze in easy portion sizes for a splash of green when the season is over. 

Music to cook to 
Try old English folksongs to capture the foraging atmosphere, or perhaps a Ludovico Einaudi piano piece as you prepare Italian wild garlic gnocchi. 

Never take more than you need. Forage lightly, or buy from a trusted ethical retailer. Wild garlic looks similar to poisonous leaf Lily-of-the-Valley – if in doubt, consult an expert. 

This article was originally published in the spring print edition of Wicked Leeks. You can read the full magazine for free on Issuu.


Leave a Reply

  1. Hello James. This is very useful thank you. Do you know if the garlic retains its health giving properties, including magnesium, if its cooked? Or does anyone know please?

    Some of Riverford’s recipes suggest blanching the wild garlic for 30seconds or a minute, in another case, before using(think it was before adding to potato for potato cake recipes) Would that also alter the healthgiving properties do you know?
    Thank you for the article. Love picking up tips and learning new things like this.

    1. Hi Diana, a great question. Magnesium and most minerals, with the exception of potassium, are stable during cooking so you won’t lose the magnesium content. Water soluble Vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins are sensitive and content may be destroyed or reduced by blanching. But it will still retain plenty of goodness! So glad you enjoyed the article and hope this helps, Hannah (I’m also a nutritional therapist so confident to answer on this one)


In case you missed it

Read the latest edition of Wicked Leeks online

Issue 12: Fairness and five years.

Learn more

About us

Find out more about Wicked Leeks and our publisher, organic veg box company Riverford.

Learn more