Finding wild garlic and growing your own

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wild garlic

According to Mark Diacono, wild garlic is a great place to start if you’re new to foraging.

My wife and I head to the coastal woods as Spring peeks out from behind the blanket of winter, along with our daughter if the promise of cake proves too strong. We’re looking for wet, half-shaded spots and the magic that can be found there.

We might not be alone; there are frequently other people after ‘their’ patch of wild garlic (Allium ursinum, commonly known as ramsons), armed with a sharp knife, a basket, and an optimistic expression. This yearly journey is quite important to us now since it’s one of the few family forages we’ve done for a long time and it gives us hope that winter could actually be ending soon.

Wild garlic is a fantastic place to start if you are new to foraging and maybe a little scared about it. It is easily recognised by its broad green tongues; while several plants, such lily of the valley, have superficial similarities, none have the distinct pungent garlic aroma. While the young leaves are the main crop, the bulbs, buds, and flowers are all delicious.

It barely takes us 15 minutes at most to cut a basketful of leaves; instead of yanking up the plant, we slice through the leaves about an inch above ground, allowing the plant to persist and produce new leaves. To prevent dog poop, we pick from a section a few steps off the trail, but once home, I always soak the leaves in the washbasin for about fifteen minutes to loosen any stray leaves or other detritus from the woodland. This conditions them, just like it does for lettuces and salad leaves, extending their shelf life. Wild garlic, after drained, dried, and bagged, can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a week.

If overcooked, the leaves lose much of their vibrant, fresh flavour; once we are back inside, a handful quickly wilted into scrambled eggs offers the reward, with pesto making and wild garlic ravioli probably coming next. I blanch a few handfuls briefly and freeze them for later use. Buds and/or white blooms, which are excellent for tempura or to add a pop of colour and contrast to leafy salads, may be found in the crop.

You can grow wild garlic in your garden as well. While wild garlic grows well in sunnier regions and well-drained soil, it should not be grown in extremely dry areas. Not many plants thrive in wet shade, particularly when it comes to providing tasty ground cover. Remember that the harvest season extends into early summer in places with more shade, and that the leaves return to the bulb in the next year after the summer heat surpasses an unseen threshold.

It’s simple to cultivate wild garlic from seed or immature plants. I almost always start with young plants in my own garden and when designing and planting others since I generally like to reduce the time it takes from planting to eating. If you can wait a little longer, you can spread seeds undercover in March. Just make sure the compost stays slightly damp, and germination should happen one to two weeks later. Four weeks later, transplant to the final position, leaving four inches between each plant. They can be directly sown in May. Remove the flower spikes as soon as they appear to focus the plant’s resources on healthy development, and let the plants go unharvested for their first year of establishment.

Depending on location and conditions, wild garlic can grow to be 16–20 inches tall and produce multiple cuttings during the peak growing season, which spans from March to the end of May. It multiplies its underground bulbs over time to produce dense colonies. Though this occurs at a much slower speed, if at all, in your garden, you can always lift and remove any bulbs trying to grow into unwanted territory. In the favourable conditions of a beech tree, it can spread very quickly.

Given how common wild garlic is, you might be wondering why you should even bother cultivating it. Even though I love foraging, there are three reasons why I think having some on hand is a good idea: first, many regions of the country (like the dry South-East) have little wild garlic growing naturally; second, it can be the ideal solution if you want to colonise a damp, shaded spot with something tasty and perennial that also attracts pollinators and other beneficial insects.