To the many people who have cursed the ubiquitous wild garlic, (Allium vineale), I offer somewhat of a truce. This is one useful spice that can add flavor to many foods. They are not poisonous, grow everywhere and don’t cost anything.
Many refer to this invasive aromatic herb incorrectly as wild onion. All parts are edible. These perennial members of the lily family sprout from underground bulbs which produce bulbets. These are flat on one side and surrounded by a membrane. When crushed, they have strong garlic scent. Leaves are hollow in cross-section and resemble chives. Their flavor is somewhat of an intermingling of onion, chives, and garlic. Bulbs have a more distinctive garlic-like taste.
The best time to collect wild garlic is from late fall to early spring. That is, of course, if you are collecting from your lawn and interested in leaves, mostly. That’s what I’m generally after. Bulbs are fine, but you’ll spend valuable time cleaning and not really get that much for the same amount of work. Soil adheres to the roots and membranes and is tedious to remove. However, if your goal is to rid these plants from your lawn, then pulling up the entire specimen might be helpful.
You can collect wild garlic in all seasons. Since I harvest most of mine from my lawn, I gather it when the grass is dormant and not mowed regularly. I can get enough in the winter to chop and dry and use as a garnish for potatoes, casseroles, roasts, and other foods where chives might be recommended.
Eat them fresh or dried. I like them fresh in a salad, but I dry some to use in cooking throughout the year. Be careful storing fresh leaves in your refrigerator. Make sure you use tightly sealed containers as your garlic will transmit an odor to other foods, especially dairy products.
To dry them, separate the green leaves from any debris, rinse them, and chop into pieces a quarter of an inch or shorter. Place on paper towels or hang them in a fine mesh bag. Let the chopped leaves air dry until they have a little crunch. Then pour into sealed containers and store in a cool dry place.
This plant is difficult to control in lawns without chemicals. Tillage isn’t practical there either. Leaving any traces of bulbs in the ground will make your efforts futile, so if you expect to control your wild garlic problem by harvesting it, you’ll likely be disappointed.
Wild garlic imparts a taste to the meat and especially milk of the animals who consume it. For this reason it should be eliminated in areas where livestock, particularly dairy animals, graze. Sometimes that’s not possible. According to many sources removing animals for several days prior to slaughter will eliminate any garlic/onion odor and flavor.
This is one species I have learned to live with. It’s a useful and versatile spice. The only drawbacks I see are mowing my lawn a couple times in the winter and an increased use of breath mints.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.