Woods burst into life with a wild garlic feast for the senses

Take a stroll into one of Yorkshire’s wonderful ancient woods, and seek out the shady, dark, damp or riverside spot.

Then, having found a suitable place, stop awhile and breath deep to inhale the delightful fragrance of the wild garlic.

Now is a great time to enjoy our local woods. The bluebells are quickly emerging, although of course we did get some remarkably early records this year, they were halted in their tracks by January’s heavy snowfall.

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But this is the season when woodland wildflowers really make themselves obvious with great showy patches.

Notice how different plants form dense patches often with a single species dominating the ground floor and excluding all others.

Sometimes the wild archangel, bluebell, garlic, primrose, woodruff, dog’s mercury, and lesser celandine are mixed, but often single-species patches are the order of the day.

The result is a heady mix of colours, textures and aromas.

The bluebell tends to favour slightly drier and free-draining sites but the wild garlic or ramsons loves shady damp woods with wet soils; and here it thrives.

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The next few weeks will see garlic coming into bloom with its compact roundish heads of white flowers.

The flowers and the fragrance from the leaves can be almost over-powering in a shady, still, quiet wood where a stream flows gently in its flood-plain.

In the late afternoon or early evening on a warm day, just pause, breathe deeply and savour this magical season. You can take a few leaves to taste but please don’t go harvesting bucket-loads.

The best thing is to return in the autumn and collect handfuls of seeds – they grow well and easily in a damp shady spot in the garden.

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Then you have wild garlic for cooking: wild garlic mushrooms, wild garlic chicken, wild garlic trout, wild garlic scrambled eggs and a myriad other recipes.

Melvyn Jones recounts how the eminent woodland historian Professor Oliver Rackham advocates eating wild garlic leaves fresh on site in a simple sandwich with buttered brown bread – delicious. A few leaves from your local wood won’t do any harm, but please watch out for van-loads of professional garlic pickers for posh restaurants. That sort of harvesting is damaging and, without the landowner’s permission, is illegal.

Ian Rotherham is a writer, broadcaster, Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change.