Wild Garlic

Another of the indicators of ancient woodland along with bluebells and the wood anemone is the wild garlic also known as ransoms and bear’s garlic. A pungent plant, you will smell it before you see it, but attractive nevertheless, and of culinary use too!

Wild garlic carpeting the woodland floor – you will definitely smell it before you see it!

Wild garlic has pretty starlike blooms with leaves a bit like like lily of the valley – both leaves and flowers are edible. The leaves appear in March (or even earlier in sheltered areas – the following photo was taken on 29 January in Colin Glen) and can be added to soups and used in pesto.  They are followed by the flowers in April to June which can make a garlicky addition to salads.

Garlic leaves come before the flowers – photo courtesy of Mick Walls, National Trust Belfast
The flowers are like stars and light up the wood

Wild garlic is often confused with three cornered leek (also edible) a native of the Mediterranean, although it is becoming more profuse in the UK. It seeds readily, unlike the true wild garlic, which takes many years to spread.  This is why you can say, with some certainty, if true wild garlic is present in quantity, the surrounding woodland is old! The three cornered leek has a triangular stem and strap-like leaves. Interestingly, my book of wild flowers, published in 1977, does not list it (even under its Latin name, allium triquetrum) which just goes to show how much it has spread in recent years!

Three cornered leek – much more like white bluebells

To my mind, the trick to telling these two apart is in the flowers and the leaves.  The wild garlic flowers are like stars with much broader leaves, while the three cornered leek flowers are more reminiscent of white bluebells.