If you come across a patch of wild garlic (Allium vineale), harvesting the perennial typically only requires a digging tool and a healthy sense of smell. The wild version -- which some people treat as a weed -- grows in many temperate parts of the United States and tends to be a bit tougher in texture than the garlic you might grow in your garden, writes Daniel McGrath of the Oregon State University Extension Service. It's edible, but you'll need to use caution to ensure you're harvesting the right plant.
How to Spot It
Identify wild garlic, hardy from U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 5 to 9, by its thin, wax-like green leaves. It looks a lot like wild onion (Allium canadense) -- another edible perennial that's hardy from USDA zones 4 to 8 -- but when you break off a stalk of wild garlic, you should detect a strong odor of garlic, much like the standard garden variety. Both plants are winter perennials that will send up green shoots in the fall, after warm weather has passed. With wild garlic, the stalks sticking up from the ground are hollow, whereas wild onion produces flat stalks.
Watch out for false garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve), hardy from USDA zones 6 to 11 and also called Crow poison, which looks very similar to wild garlic but doesn't give off the garlicky smell when the stalk is broken or crushed. False garlic may be poisonous, so if you're not absolutely sure you are working with wild garlic, don't harvest it. Although extension experts tend to agree wild garlic is edible, large doses could cause problems on account of the sulfoxides in the plant, according to the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. Ingest wild garlic only in small quantities.
Large doses of wild garlic could cause problems on account of the sulfoxides in the plant, according to the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.
Harvest wild garlic in the late spring before the weather gets hot and the leaves and stalks of the wild garlic begin to die back. Harvesting during that time will allow you to get the largest bulbs because they thrive in cold weather and use that time to grow. Ideally, harvest soon after a rain because that will ensure the ground is as soft as possible for digging.
Dig a few inches around the plant and several inches down with a trowel or shovel until you reach the bulbs. Gently pull the bulbs from the ground and wash the entire plant with clean water before eating the bulbs and stalks. Remove any brown hulls around the bulbs. As you'll discover, the green stalks also have a garlicky flavor.