Foraging Guide: Wild Garlic

A fantastically versatile wild food that is abundant in well-established woodland throughout the spring season, wild garlic is a much-loved foraging staple across Britain and Europe.

8th March 2024 | Words by Dave Hamilton

The first wild garlic shoots mark the beginning of the foraging year more than any other plant. As their leaves rise up in the soil, like a million hands reaching for the sun, it’s a sign that the days are getting longer, and the dark winter is nearly over. From early spring, whole forest floors are temporarily carpeted with its vibrant, bright green leaves. It often grows in such abundance that the air is thick with its strong garlic scent.

Found growing in native hardwood forests from Russia in the east to Ireland in the west, wild garlic has been used as a food plant throughout Europe since prehistoric times. It has been found amongst the remains of Neolithic settlements in Switzerland and at a Mesolithic site in Denmark, where remains of the charred bulbs were discovered.


Part of wild garlic’s usefulness is just how easy it is to identify. The leaves are 2-5cm wide and around 15-20cm long. They taper at both ends – to a point at the top and into the stalk at the base, with a pronounced central vein. The plant grows from a single bulb, similar in size and shape to a single garlic clove. Leaves can emerge as early as February, but it is more common to see them sprout up in March.

Towards the middle of spring, they start to flower, sending up white, star shaped flowers on a central stalk, followed by green, caper-like seed pods. The main giveaway is the smell. The plant has an almost overpowering garlic scent, which can become more distinctive if the leaf is crushed.

Wild Garlic Open Bud

If you can’t smell garlic when you rub the leaf between your fingers, then you’ve either lost your sense of smell or you have the wrong plant! The poisonous Lily of the Valley can look similar to wild garlic, but it has two leaves on each stalk rather than one and the flowers are bell shaped rather than star shaped.

Lords and Ladies, a strong irritant, can look similar too, especially when it is too young to have formed its tell-tale arrow shaped leaves. The most important difference is that the leaves of Lords and Ladies will have what appears to be a central vein running around the perimeter of the leaf.

The main confusion usually comes from careless foraging. Picking great handfuls at once without care and attention can be the worst culprit for misidentification. Similar-looking neighbouring plants can be deposited into your foraging basket and without sifting through back home it’s all too easy to slip in the odd Lords and Ladies leaf.

Wild Garlic

Where to find them

Look for wild garlic in ancient or well-established deciduous woodland, especially near streams and rivers and on damp land. It will grow in younger hardwood plantations, but it can take a while to take hold so will never appear in the numbers of more established forests. Both bracken and brambles will out-compete wild garlic and it will be entirely absent under conifer trees, so avoid these areas.

Preparation and use

Wild garlic is a really versatile ingredient. Taking the place of garlic cloves, it can be added to everything from soups and stews to curries, hummus and cheese sauces. Chop it up and throw it in a dish in much the same way you would fresh parsley or basil or dry it and keep a jar of the dehydrated flaked leaves to add to dishes throughout the year.

The leaves also make a really good kimchi, either on its own or added alongside Chinese cabbage. Unlike traditional kimchi it doesn’t need so much flavouring as the leaves pack quite a punch already.

Although the cloves can be eaten, it’s not recommended as this prevents the plant from returning in the following year (and it is technically illegal).

Meanwhile, the flowers can be added as a garnish to salads or pizza and the seed pods can be pickled and used like capers.

Wild Garlic Pesto

Wild Garlic Pesto Recipe

Easily one of the best go-to recipes for wild garlic is this simple pesto. You can switch out the cashews for pine nuts or sunflower seeds and if you find wild garlic a little too overpowering on its own, try it with a mix of milder tasting leaves such as spinach, chickweed or even half and half with basil.


  • 100g wild garlic leaves
  • 100ml cold pressed rapeseed oil or olive oil
  • 50g cashew nuts
  • 50ml nutritional yeast flakes
  • Pinch of salt
  • Twist of black pepper (or crushed Alexander seeds)


    1. Wash and roughly chop the wild garlic, ensuring no rogue leaves from other plants have been foraged by mistake.
    2. Toast the cashew nuts in a dry frying pan over a moderate heat until they have browned.
    3. Add all the ingredients, except the oil, salt and pepper into a food processer and blitz on full power.
    4. Slowly add the oil.
    5. Check the pesto for flavour and season with the salt and pepper to taste.

Wild Garlic

Dave Hamilton is the author of Where the Wild Things Grow: the Foragers Guide to the Landscape, published by Hodder and Stoughton. He has led the Guardian Masterclass in foraging and currently works as an instructor for Britain’s leading foraging course company, Wild Food UK.

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