As spring arrives so do the first shoots of Wild Garlic, often found growing in woodland near clumps of bluebells or along the roadside. It has distinctive long leaves and is easily identified by the sweet aroma they give off.
As an ingredient it is the leaves, rather than the bulbs, that are most sought after. These are at their best in early spring before their flowers start to bloom and have a delicate garlic flavour that requires very little cooking. They can replace basil to make an amazing pesto, be chopped and added to ricotta and mint as a super-quick pasta sauce, form part of a fresh seasonal salad or be used to make a luxurious wild garlic and cream soup and wild garlic leaves are also a health “superfood” with research showing them extremely effective in reducing high blood pressure and preventing strokes.
The leaves of Wild Garlic can be picked in most years from March to June. They are at their best and most flavoursome when bright green before the flowers open. As they age and start to turn yellow, the flavour is less strong. The star-shaped flowers are usually seen in May and June.
There are a few other plants that it is possible to confuse with Wild Garlic. The usual sources of confusion are young Lords and Ladies leaves, Lily of the Valley and Autumn Crocus – which are not edible. The best test is to crush a leaf and use your nose, if it smells of garlic it is garlic.
Do not dig up Wild Garlic bulbs, instead harvest leaves using scissors.