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Wild Garlic - Allium ursinum

Wild Garlic - Allium ursinum - a well-known plant among foragers

Main features

  • Grows in damp, shady woodland, often beside a water source

  • Found in late winter to late spring

  • Leaves have parallel veins

  • Strong smell of onions/garlic when crushed

  • Globe (umbel) flowerheads with small six-petalled white flowers in late spring

  • Fills air with garlic scent when in flowers

  • Generally grows in abundance when found

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Wild Garlic - Allium ursinum

Edible plant - novice

Other common names: Ramsons, Bear's Garlic, Bear's Leek, Wood Garlic, Broad-leaf Garlic, Stink Bombs, Buckrams


Scientific name meaning: Allium is the Latin word for garlic, although its original derivation is unclear. Ursinum means "bear-like" or "of bears", and refers to the fact it was believed bears are Wild Garlic bulbs when they emerged from hibernation

Season Leaves late winter to late spring, flowers spring, seeds late spring

Habitat - where will I find it? Wild Garlic loves damp shady places. It can be found in woodlands and grass verges, particularly if there is a water source. It is found across Europe and in some arts of Asia

Description - what does it look like? The first part of Wild  Garlic to emerge is its leaves. They are a rich green and lance-shaped, known as lanceolate (tapered at the top and bottom), and have parallel veins. They appear in clumps as they emerge from a bulb underground and often carpet the area they are found in. Later in spring, a leafless flower stalk emerges with the flower head encased within a transparent green covering, or spathe. 

When the flower head emerges in spring, it is on the form of a globe-shaped umbel with individual six-petalled white flowers. After the petals drop, three conjoined spherical seed pods remain

Possible lookalikes The most ​dangerous lookalike is Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), which is deadly poisonous. This can be distinguished from Wild Garlic as it does not emit a garlic scent when crushed. 

The severely irritant Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) could also be confused with Wild Garlic in its early growth stages. It also lacks a garlic smell when crushed, but has tailed leaves with reticulate (net like) veins, rather than parallel veins. The main risk from Lords and Ladies comes from mistakenly collecting it while harvesting bunches of Wild Garlic leaves. It is often found growing amongst Wild Garlic

Use as a food All parts of Wild Garlic are edible, so it has a lot of uses in food. However, the bulb is rather small and fiddly to clean. And, of course, digging up of the bulb on commonland or without the landowner's permission on private land is illegal.

The leaves have a mild garlic flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked. If harvested in an area that has been potentially recently flooded by a river, stream or run off from grazed fields, remember the risk of liver fluke. Boiling would be required in this scenario.

The leaves can be used raw in salads or pesto, or fermented. They can also be cooked, but it is best to cook them for as little time as possible as they lose their delicate flavour quickly.

The flower stalks, buds and flowers have a stronger flavour, and can be used raw or cooked. Good uses include pickling and adding to salads, where they are as decorative as tasty.

The seeds can also be used green to pack a garlicky punch to a salad or warm dish, or to make capers with. When the seeds ripen, they can be ground using a spice mill for use as seasoning

Use in herbal medicine Although not having as strong an action, Wild Garlic has similar health benefits to domestic garlic (Allium sativum). It is used for general health promotion, reducing high blood pressure and reducing blood cholesterol.

Wild Garlic has been used to treat internal parasites, asthma, fits and spasms, water retention, hypertension, skin redness, fevers, and coughs. It has also believed to be and antiseptic and styptic.

The bulb is believed to be the most active part.

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Hazards Can be toxic in excessively large amounts. However, it is worth remembering that to companion animals, such as dogs, Wild Garlic can be fatal if consumed

Importance to other species The flowers are visited by various pollinators, while badgers and squirrels eat the bulbs

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

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