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 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
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
- 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
- Heat olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven on medium heat.
- Add ramps and potatoes, sautéing until ramps are tender.
- Sprinkle in the flour, stirring until the oil is absorbed.
- Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender.
- Stir in the heavy cream and heat thoroughly, adding salt and pepper if necessary.
- Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until you reach the desired consistency
Wild Garlic, Asparagus and Pea Frittata
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.
- 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
- Steam potatoes on the stove until tender, let cool, peel and slice thinly.
- Toss chopped asparagus in oil, salt, and pepper, spread on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven at 350˚F for 20 minutes.
- Heat oil in an ovenproof skillet on medium-high heat, cook onion until translucent, then add the wild garlic and cook until wilted.
- Stir in the roasted asparagus, peas, potatoes, butter, salt, and pepper. Stir to evenly distribute the vegetables.
- Add the eggs and reduce to medium heat, cooking until golden brown on the bottom (approx. 8-10 minutes).
- Broil in the oven until the eggs are set and golden on top (approx. 3 minutes).
- Optional: garnish with more wild garlic and parmesan cheese.
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