Spring is in the air and so is the smell of garlic. No you're not hallucinating, that faint garlic smell you detected on your last visit to the woods is Bärlauch, otherwise known as ramsons or wild garlic. Bärlauch is plentiful and easy to identify, perfect for beginner foragers, and with its mild, peppery garlic flavour there are endless tasty possibilities!
What is it?
Bärlauch (Allium Ursinum) is a wild herb with a mild, peppery garlic taste. Think chives crossed with watercress. All parts of this plant are edible, but the part that is prevalent in cooking is the leaf, which can be used in a number of different dishes as a substitute for spinach, chives and garlic. The white flowers it produces later in the season are also edible and are a lovely addition to salads as a savoury decoration.
When is it in season and where to find it
Bärlauch is generally in season in the Basel area from early March until June. The leaves are best picked young (during March and April) and the flowers emerge from April to June.
Bärlauch enjoys damp, wooded areas and can be found in several locations around Basel, including Bruderholz, Allschwil and Lange Erlen forest.
How to identify it
Bärlauch is a good choice for novice foragers as is is quite easy to identify. It does have similarities in appearance to the lily of the valley, which is poisonous, so make sure to take the time to identify multiple characteristics to verify that what you are picking is, in fact, Bärlauch.
The characteristics of Bärlauch are as follows:
strong smell of garlic when crushed (lily of the valley has no smell)
spear shaped leaves with one leaf per stem (lily of the valley has two leaves per stem)
the underside of the leaf is dull (lily of the valley is shiny)
the stem has a 'half moon' shape when cut (lily of the valley is round)
when you bend the leaf vein it should break and make a popping sound
This video from Rathwulven Bushcraft explains in detail the ways to identify it.
How to pick it
When picking Bärlauch make sure to take your time and pick one leaf at a time (to avoid accidentally picking other potentially hazardous plants) and make sure to leave the bulb and root system intact so that the plant can continue to grow. It is also good to follow the general rules of foraging:
know what you are picking
only pick from public spaces (private property only with permission)
only pick if there is a plentiful supply
leave enough for others (as well as wildlife)
pick in areas that are off the main road (to avoid dog urine)
Before cooking with Bärlauch make sure to wash it well. I like to soak it in a bowl of water with vinegar for a half an hour before rinsing it in a colander.
How to use it
Once you try Bärlauch you will find a million uses for it.
Because of its mild flavour it can be added to a number of dishes either raw or cooked. I add it to soups, salads, omelettes, pastas and savoury scones. Here are some ways to try it out:
Salad Dressing https://www.localgreens.org.uk/recipe/wild-garlic-dressing
I hope this inspires you to take a stroll in the woods and find some for yourself. If you discover a great recipe, please share it in the comments.