Wild garlic (a.k.a ramsons) grows wild right across the UK. Right now, foragers are making early harvests, starting in the warmer south of the country.
This is one of the first new ingredients every spring, emerging around the same time as the very first asparagus and Jersey Royals.
The plant is edible at all stages of its life cycle - from the leaves to flower buds to pretty white flowers with six petals, which look dazzling on the plate.
- Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) belongs to the Allium plant family, along with chives, spring onions and leeks.
- The plant spreads via bulbs and prefers slightly damp ground.
- It is said that wild garlic helps to reduce blood pressure, blood cholesterol and the risk of strokes.
Growing and harvesting
"It grows like a carpet - very dense - in ancient woodlands," says Kentish forager Lucia Stuart.
"What I particularly love is that you can harvest the leaves at every size - from tiny leaves, the size of half a matchstick, to larger leaves you can use as a wrap."
She recommends using scissors to harvest the plant. "Give it a haircut," she says.
Stuart is keen to emphasise the positive role that foragers play in the natural environment. "For some reason people haven't clocked that we are ecologists looking after the planet."
In the market
Many wholesalers and catering supply companies supply wild garlic in season, either in punnets or by the kilo. They are supplied by their network of professional foragers - just don't expect them to reveal their favourite spots!
At time of writing, wild garlic stars on many restaurant menus across London:
- Wild garlic soup, crème fraiche and croutons at Great Queen Street.
- Warm wild garlic cream, smoked eel, lardo, Maris Piper, marinated shallots, long garlic tempura leaves at Gauthier.
- Lamb sweetbreads, radishes and wild garlic at St John.
- Crispy cod cheeks, wild garlic pesto, confit lemon at Corrigan's Mayfair.
- Fillets of plaice, wild garlic, spring onions and chives at Quo Vadis.
He is using wild garlic in a variety of dishes, including a wild garlic sauce vierge for Jersey Royal potatoes, wild garlic mayo for steak and threading it through a dish of hake, mussels and samphire with a white wine cream sauce. He blanches the wild garlic first to preserve to colour and mellow the flavour.
For a different take, below is the quail kiev served at Rochelle Canteen (photo credit: Head Chef Euan Farmer).
In the stunning dish below, chef Connor Lowrey uses wild garlic for a sauce to pair with asparagus.
Chef Adam Purcell at Frenchie in Covent Garden is experimenting with wild garlic gnocchi.
In this dish, chef Brian Ferguson threads it into home-made cannelloni with consomme, onion and scarlet elf cap.
Wild garlic is such a wonderful, versatile ingredient - it deserves a spot on every menu.