Ramsons, Buckrams, Broad-Leaved Garlic, Wood Garlic, Bear Leek, or Bear’s Garlic
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), AKA Ramsons, has to be one of the easiest UK edible wild plants to identify, but it’s not without some risk (see below). The vast swathes of Wild Garlic leaves carpeting my local woodlands from March onwards is a sign that the foraging ‘year’ has begun.
Where does Wild Garlic grow?
Wild Garlic can be found across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and parts of Europe. It generally prefers damp and shady woodlands and hedgerows (also some watercourses/riverbanks) and is often found in ancient woodlands, carpeting the forest floor from late February to May.
It is often found first by scent before sight, and the slightly bitter smell can fill a warm, damp wooded area in springtime. One of the pubs not far from the Original Outdoors offices is across the road from a substantial patch, and on a late Spring evening the beer garden is bathed in the scent of these easily-foraged plants.
Is Wild Garlic edible?
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) is commonly eaten with no or few reported ill effects. It has traditionally been eaten across Europe for centuries and several traditional dishes and uses have been recorded from Ireland to Russia. The whole plant is edible and can be used, but care should be taken when identifying very young leaves.
The young, fresh leaves can be eaten raw in salads and make an excellent addition to sandwiches. The more mature leaves are probably best cooked for taste, and the stems can be used steamed or stir-fired. The flower clusters are particulalry good in tempora, and the green seedheads can be be collected and pickled in white wine or cider vinegar to create a kind of garlic-infused caper.
How to identify Wild Garlic
Wild Garlic is quite easy to identify, but there are some possible mis-identifications (see below).
The first obvious signs are long and eliptical, slightly rubbery leaves about 28-25cm long and about 5-7cm wide. These, when crushed, smell strongly of garlic, although slightly different to the type you will find in netted bags in a supermarket. The leaves narrow down to a long white stem, disappearing into a bulb that is reminiscent of a spring onion.
Clusters of white flowers form on the end of stalks with a triangular cross-section, which later become small green clusters of seeds, sometimes referred to as ‘Ramson Berries’.
The entire plant smells of garlic, but care should be taken when identifying plants together as once you have handled Wild Garlic EVERYTHING can smell of garlic…
Potential dangers and misidentification
The most common mis-identification of Wild Garlic takes place in early Spring when the new leaves start to appear above the ground. The young leaves of Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum), AKA Cuckoo Pint, Arum Lily etc, CAN look quite similar to Wild Garlic, and if your hands already smell of previously-gathered Wild Garlic then the scent of the leaves you are now holding cannot be relied upon. Fortunately as both plants mature and their leaves develop they become quite different, with Lords-and-Ladies developing black/blue spots and two distinct lobes at the bottom of the leaf. See this blog post for more information.
- Ramsons, one of the common names for Wild Garlic, lends the name to various place names in the U.K., including Ramsbottom, Ramsey Island, Ramsden etc.
- There are claims that Wild Garlic can help lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol
- The leaves are wrapped around cheese in one variant of the traditional Cornish cheese Yarg