It is very common, especially in ancient deciduous woodland, except for northern Scotland and central eastern England. Where conditions are favourable for its growth, shaded and damp, it grows in prolific drifts under mature trees, when the first leaves appear in February and the pure white flowers in April.
The leaves are bright green, elliptical and pointed with smooth outer edges up to 25 cm long and 7cm wide when mature, with a petiole ( the stalk that connects to the leaf base) of about 20cm. Once crushed or bruised they emit an strong aroma of onion/garlic. These are at their very best to eat before the flowers open. The beautiful flowers form an umbel shape of six to twenty star-like flowers, each with six petals on thin stalks. All parts of the plant smell strongly of garlic and are unmistakable for this reason alone.
There are a number of other plants that can be mistaken for Wild Garlic by the unwary forager. These are Lily of the Valley, a garden plant that is occasionally found in the wild near habitation, where it has effectively ‘escaped’ and is quite seriously poisonous, Autumn Crocus similarly so and Lords and Ladies which act as an irritant, potentially causing serious effects of swelling to tongue and throat. Happily one thing these plants do not have in common with Wild Garlic is their scent and as such this confirms its authenticity.
Once in full bloom the green leaves and pure white flowers can be found carpeting vast areas of old woodland, filling the air with the unmistakeable smell of garlic. Wild garlic grows from a bulb which is also edible and of which millions exist in one stretch of woodland alone.
It is a truly delicious plant to forage and eat. The leaves are at their best and tastiest before their flowers open in April, but the flowers which also taste of garlic, look pretty on salads.
The leaves are best cut with scissors and collected in a large flat basket. They should be used quickly as they wilt, though they will keep for a day or two in a polythene bag in the salad drawer of the fridge.
Wild Garlic is very much milder than its cultivated cousin but can be used in equally numerous ways. It offers the same beneficial antibacterial, antibiotic and possibly antiviral health benefits as well as being thought very effective at lowering blood pressure. The first recorded health benefits of Wild Garlic in the British Isles were recorded around the 13th century in Wales by the Physicians of Myddfai, a group of herbalists who valued it for its healing properties. Today we appreciate Wild Garlic for its medicinal and nutritional qualities, its ability to help lower blood pressure and reduce blood cholesterol and for its high levels of vitamin C.
It is very much less pungent than commercial garlic and perhaps best eaten raw as its flavour will not survive prolonged cooking. The young leaves are lovely chopped into salads, salad dressings and cream cheese, stirred into pasta last minute and sensational in pesto with parmesan or pecorino, pine, almond or hazelnuts, olive oil and lemon. Online recipe sites are awash with exciting recipes. How wonderful to enjoy the qualities of this nutritious and versatile plant for free.