Picking wild garlic: harvesting & storing buckrams


For many years now, I have been growing various vegetables as a hobby in my spare time, which is what ultimately led me to studying horticulture. I find it fascinating to watch as plants grow from seed to fruit and to then finally be able to make use of the literal fruits of my labour.

Favourite fruit: Strawberries and cherries
Favourite vegetable: Potatoes, tomatoes and garlic

Wild garlic can be used in many ways and fits into almost any dish. Learn how to preserve wild garlic, so that you can use it throughout the year.

Wild garlic leaves and flowers
Pay close attention when gathering wild garlic leaves in the woods [Photo: Iva Vagnerova/ Shutterstock.com]

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum), also called buckrams and ramsons, is a healthy herb that has many uses in the kitchen, adding a fresh garlicky touch to many dishes. Unfortunately, freshly harvested wild garlic does not keep for long, but there are several ways to extend its shelf life.

Foraging wild garlic

Wild garlic leaves are tastiest when they are still young and succulent. So, the best time to pick wild garlic is in mid-March, when the leaves are still light green, lush and full of nutrients. The longer you wait, the darker and more fibrous the leaves become. Also, as wild garlic plants start flowering as early as April, by then, most leaves have often already lost much of their aroma and developed a bitter taste.

Before harvesting from a patch of wild garlic for the first time, allow the plants to flower; this ensures the continuation of the stand through self-seeding. In the following years, only harvest up to half of the wild garlic to ensure stable propagation and maintenance of the plant population over the coming years.

Picking wild garlic leaves is not forbidden but uprooting them is, as the population is in decline. Therefore, when collecting wild garlic, only take as much as you need − about a handful of leaves at a time. Never uproot an entire wild garlic plant.

Handful of wild garlic leaves
In nature, only the leaves of wild garlic may be harvested [Photo: Iva Vagnerova/ Shutterstock.com]

If you are wondering where to go looking for wild garlic, simply find out what the soil type is in an area. You can expect to find wild garlic in forests that grow on calcareous soils. Focus your search along the bottom of slopes. Lime tends to accumulate at the foot of a slope, ensuring a high pH value in the soil and making it an ideal environment for wild garlic to thrive. A couple great places to look in the UK are Arnos Vale, Bristol and the woods around Roseberry Topping in North Yorkshire.

Did you know? Wild garlic is an indicator species for ancient woodlands, especially in North Yorkshire.

When picking wild garlic from stands in the wild, it is crucial to be able to differentiate wild garlic from its poisonous look-alikes such as lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) and autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale). Such a mix-up can cost you your life. Follow the link here to learn the characteristic features, so you can correctly identify wild garlic.

Purple autumn crocus flowers
Autumn crocuses flower in autumn, but their leaves can easily be confused with wild garlic in spring

Storing and preserving wild garlic

As the wild garlic harvest season is short, it is important to store it properly for later use. Here is how you can enjoy your wild garlic long after harvest:

  • Storing wild garlic fresh: unfortunately, wild garlic can only be stored for a few days when fresh. To do this, wrap the leaves in a damp cloth or place them in a damp freezer bag. Keep fresh wild garlic in the fridge.
  • Drying wild garlic: although drying your wild garlic is another viable option, much of the leaves’ valuable nutrients and characteristic aroma are lost during the drying process. For these reasons, we do not recommend this storage method.
  • Freezing wild garlic: to use your harvest for longer, try freezing your buckrams. Just cut or chop the leaves, place them in a freezer bag or container and place this in the freezer. Alternatively, you can portion the chopped-up leaves into an ice tray, pour some water over them and place the tray in the freezer for later ease of use.
  • Processing wild garlic: another good way to preserve wild garlic is to process it to make wild garlic oil or wild garlic pesto.
Frozen wild garlic in trays
Freezing wild garlic is the best way to maximise its shelf life [Photo: Ahanov Michael/ Shutterstock.com]

How to use wild garlic

Wild garlic is rich in important vitamins, minerals and secondary plant substances such as alliin. With these benefits and a fantastic taste, it is a great choice for refining recipes in the kitchen. Try your hand at making the following:

  • Wild garlic pesto: finely chop the wild garlic leaves and mix it with some pine nuts, walnuts or almonds and plenty of grated Parmesan. Season the pesto with some quality olive oil and a little salt. Fill a glass jar with the pesto and cover the pesto with a little oil before placing a lid on the jar; this will prevent it from moulding. Wild garlic pesto can be kept in the fridge for up to a year.
  • Wild garlic bread: make a bread dough yourself or use a bread mix. Add finely chopped fresh wild garlic to the dough. Try adding a little butter or oil to the dough to really bring out the wild garlic’s aroma. Wild garlic bread typically stays fresh in a bread bin for 3 to 4 days.
  • Wild garlic pizza: topping a pizza with wild garlic is delicious. Try using a wild garlic pesto or briefly frying some freshly chopped wild garlic leaves to top your pizza. If you want to add some more toppings to go with the wild garlic, we recommend spinach and ricotta. Store any leftover pizza in the fridge for up to 3 to 5 days.
  • Wild garlic butter: purée or chop a handful of wild garlic into fine pieces and combine it with softened butter. Feel free to add other herbs to your liking. Season the butter with salt and pepper to taste. Wild garlic butter will keep for about a year if frozen.
Wild garlic leaves and pesto
Wild garlic pesto is quick and easy to prepare and makes wild garlic last longer [Photo: Jiri Hera/ Shutterstock.com]

Is wild garlic poisonous?

For humans, wild garlic is edible and healthy. However, for dogs, cats and horses, it can be life-threatening. Wild garlic contains sulphur compounds which, in high doses, can destroy red blood cells in quadrupeds; this leads to anaemia. The first signs of poisoning are vomiting and diarrhoea. Luckily, animals generally avoid eating wild garlic, so poisoning cases are rare. Be that as it may, consult a vet as soon as possible if you notice signs of poisoning.

Are wild garlic flowers edible?

Yes, you can eat wild garlic flowers. In fact, they too taste intensely of garlic. Furthermore, the flowers, like the leaves, are full of vitamins and minerals. Try adding them to salads or sandwiches.

Tip: contrary to popular belief, you can even eat wild garlic bulbs. However, digging up bulbs in the wild is prohibited.

Can you eat wild garlic leaves after the plant flowers?

Wild garlic leaves are still edible while the plant is in bloom, but they lose flavour and become more fibrous. For this reason, we suggest harvesting leaves in spring before the plants flower. Depending on how you store or process it, you will be able to freshen up your dishes with wild garlic for months to come.

White wild garlic flowers
Wild garlic flowers are also edible but are less tasty than fresh wild garlic leaves [Photo: jessicahyde/ Shutterstock.com]

How healthy is wild garlic?

Besides vitamin C and minerals, such as iron and magnesium, wild garlic contains alliin and allicin; the latter is responsible for the typical garlic smell and is considered a pharmacologically active substance. The antibacterial effect of wild garlic has also now been medically confirmed. Additionally, fresh wild garlic, such as in a salad or pesto, is also said to help with relieving coughs and fevers. Like its close relative, garlic (Allium sativum), wild garlic is a healthy and versatile Allium. It is also very easy to grow in your own garden.