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18 Feb 2022

Spring is wild garlic season!

Woman wearing a yellow raincoat and walking boots is crouched on the ground in a forest, picking fresh wild garlic leaves.
Spring is the best season for foraging for wild garlic | Encierro/Shutterstock
Go for a walk in the woods and you may find your senses awoken unexpectedly by an aroma not unlike a French kitchen.

One of the enduring senses of nature is the smell of wild garlic in early spring. Following in the footsteps of snowdrops and celandine, this member of the onion family begins to show itself in February.

Wild garlic, or ransoms as they are also know, is a wild plant not unlike wood rush in appearance. It carpets small areas of woodlands. Although different to the garlic we know from supermarkets, you can eat wild garlic: the leaves of this wild plant are traditionally used in soups, salads and even as pesto.

Where to find wild garlic

Wild garlic can be found across much of the UK, including Scotland where there is plenty of woodland for it to thrive. Since the plant prefers ancient woodland sites, it is quite often found on National Trust for Scotland properties.

We’ve found wild garlic at a variety of our places, including:

While out on a woodland walk at one of our properties, ask a member of staff or the gardening team if they know whether wild garlic grows there.

A bunch of freshly picked and flowering wild garlic | Fotoknips/Shutterstock

Picking wild garlic

When identifying wild garlic, the biggest giveaway is the smell; the strong garlic aroma will be hard to miss. When there’s a large area of wild garlic in woodland close to roads, the smell can be so strong that people in cars driving by will wonder where the garlic is coming from!

Aside from the smell, you can also identify wild garlic by its appearance. The plants grow together in dense clumps, and the leaves are long, thin and have a smooth edge. Wild garlic flowers are white, with six petals in a star shape, and they bloom in a cluster from a single stalk.

If picking for the pot, care should be taken not to confuse it with the similar but poisonous lily of the valley. Lily of the valley does not smell of garlic, so trust your nose, and unlike wild garlic its leaves sprout from a stem. If in doubt, don’t risk it!

And remember, wild garlic is a wild plant. It’s a flower used by pollinators, so only take the few leaves necessary and leave plenty to regrow. Be careful to leave the bulb intact and in the ground when foraging the leaves so that the plant can return next year.

Wild garlic will carpet the woodland floor | Cora Mueller/Shutterstock

Wild garlic pesto recipe

Garlic is a versatile and incredibly flavourful ingredient, and there are manty creative ways to add wild garlic to your food: cook a wild garlic risotto, or for a savoury snack bake a batch of cheese and wild garlic scones! You can eat every part of the wild garlic plant, so even the flowers can be used for an additional flourish to garnish a dish.

A simple recipe for using your freshly foraged wild garlic is to create a pesto. If kept in a sealed container in the fridge, your pesto can last between one to two weeks.

All you need for a perfect wild garlic pesto is:

  • 100g–150g wild garlic leaves
  • Olive oil or rapeseed oil
  • 50g nuts such as pine or hazelnut
  • 50g of pecorino or Parmesan cheese, grated
  • A dash of lemon juice, plus salt and pepper for seasoning

Some people will also add a garlic clove, for an even stronger flavour.

Recipe

  1. Wash and chop the wild garlic leaves
  2. Using either a food processor or a mortar and pestle, blitz/grind the wild garlic leaves, grated cheese and nuts to a rough paste. Slowly add the oil and the lemon juice, continuing to gently blitz until the pesto is smooth and at your preferred thickness.
  3. Taste and season with the salt and pepper. You may wish to add additional oil if you prefer a thinner pesto.
  4. Store in a jar in the fridge. Drizzle the top of the pesto with an extra layer of oil to keep it fresh.
  5. Enjoy!

Thanks to Allie McAllister (Communications Officer and our in-house garlic forager and pesto creator) for her pesto pictures!