Wild Garlic: Where to Find It, When to Harvest It, and How to Use It

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Flickr - Edsel Little

Depending on where you live, your definition of wild garlic may differ, though it’s definitely an early spring crop. They’re often one of the first edible plants to pop up after winter. We’ll look at where and when to find wild garlic, and how to cook with it. 

The term ‘wild garlic’ can refer to several members of the allium family, which includes garlic, leeks, shallots, onions, and chives. For the sake of this article, wild garlic will refer to allium tricoccum, which is also known as wild leeks or ramps and is the closest relative to European wild garlic (allium ursinum).

Ramps are a native plant found on the east coast ranging from North Carolina up into Canada. To see if wild garlic grows in your area, check out the USDA range map. Certain cities, like Richwood, WV, or Waynesville, NC even have festivals celebrating this beloved, and highly sought-after spring green. 

Once you’ve verified that wild garlic grows in your area, check local foraging websites. They are a great resource for both new and experienced foragers.

Finding Wild Garlic: Where and When

The time to find wild garlic is in the spring, once the weather has gotten warmer. By the time summer comes around, the plants will be in bloom and no longer harvestable.

You’ll often find ramps growing in sporadic patches on the forest floor. They thrive in shady areas with rich and well-drained soil – look for them near sugar maple or oak trees. Some companion plants you may see growing nearby include trout lily, trillium, and nettle

Identifying the Right Plant

ramps vs. lily of the valley
Ramps have a silvery color to the leaves, and a red hue going from leaf base to stem. Lily of the Valley has curvier, thicker leaves and often produces a white flower. (Photos: CC0 Public Domain / Flickr - dano272 (L), CC0 Public Domain / Flickr - Malte Christiansen)

Ramps are traditionally foraged as opposed to cultivated, and can be confused with poisonous plants like lily of the valley or false hellebore. In order to identify wild garlic, look for the following characteristics:

  • two broad and flat leaves that are anchored by a bulb
  • light, silvery green color
  • 1-2½ inches wide and 5-10 inches long
  • red hue that runs from the base of the leaves down to the bulb

Wild garlic enthusiasts often say you can smell the plant before you see it, especially if you find a large patch. The plants give off a sweet, oniony smell. When identifying the plant, crush a leaf in your hand: if you get a onion/garlic aroma, you’ve found ramps!

If you’re still not sure, ask a local forager. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Harvesting and Storing Tips

wild garlic patch
If you’re lucky enough to find a large patch of ramps, be sure to harvest sustainably. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Flickr - Wendell Smith )

When it comes to harvesting ramps, or wild garlic, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Location: Places like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have bans on harvesting ramps, and in Quebec, commercial harvesting has been forbidden since 1995 due to a study outlining the plant’s vulnerability. Always check the regulations before you pluck wild garlic.

Quantity: Harvest only what you need and use a sharp knife so you don’t damage the plant unnecessarily. Take one or two leaves per plant, leaving the bulb in place so it can regenerate for years to come. Choose to harvest from areas with an abundant supply, if possible, and remove a maximum of 5% of a patch. When it comes to preserving the plants for years to come, sustainable harvesting is key.

The leaves of the wild garlic plant are best used fresh, within a day or two of harvesting. You can extend their shelf life by wrapping the leaves in a damp paper towel and storing them in the fridge or by blanching and freezing them.

Cooking with Wild Garlic

There’s something so much more satisfying about cooking with food you have foraged or grown yourself. Ramps are no exception, and can add some much needed vitamin C to your post-winter diet. You can use this leafy green in several ways including pesto, pasta sauce, salads, soups, and spreads. Here are two recipes that highlight this delicious spring green.

Ramp and Potato Soup

wild garlic soup
Enjoy some delicious wild garlic soup with your freshly plucked ramps. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Flickr - Stu Spivack)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups ramps
  • 2½ cups potatoes, diced
  • 1½ tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • ½ cup heavy cream (or ¼ cup silken tofu + ¼  cup soy milk)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven on medium heat.
  2. Add ramps and potatoes, sautéing until ramps are tender.
  3. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring until the oil is absorbed.
  4. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender.
  6. Stir in the heavy cream and heat thoroughly, adding salt and pepper if necessary.
  7. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until you reach the desired consistency

Wild Garlic, Asparagus and Pea Frittata

ramps frittata
When cooking with eggs, make sure you purchase organic and free-range eggs. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Flickr - Ian MacKenzie )

This dish uses the best of what spring has to offer. When you’re hunting for wild garlic, you can also look for wild asparagus to make this a truly foraged feast.

Ingredients:

  • ½ lb. waxy potatoes 
  • ⅛  cup olive oil 
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped wild garlic (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1 cup chopped asparagus 
  • ⅓ cup peas 
  • 1 ½ tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper, to taste 
  • 4 eggs, beaten 
  • Optional: parmesan cheese 

Instructions:

  1. Steam potatoes on the stove until tender, let cool, peel and slice thinly.
  2. Toss chopped asparagus in oil, salt, and pepper, spread on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven at 350˚F for 20 minutes. 
  3. Heat oil in an ovenproof skillet on medium-high heat, cook onion until translucent, then add the wild garlic and cook until wilted. 
  4. Stir in the roasted asparagus, peas, potatoes, butter, salt, and pepper. Stir to evenly distribute the vegetables. 
  5. Add the eggs and reduce to medium heat, cooking until golden brown on the bottom (approx. 8-10 minutes).
  6. Broil in the oven until the eggs are set and golden on top (approx. 3 minutes).
  7. Optional: garnish with more wild garlic and parmesan cheese. 
** Links to retailers are partially affiliate links: If you buy here, you actively support Utopia.org because we get a small portion of the proceeds.

Do you like this post?

Thank you very much for voting!

Tags: