Identify Wild Garlic, its uses, what’s edible and what medicinal effects does wild garlic have.
Wild Garlic, Buckrams, Ramsons, Bear Garlic, Ramps, Wood Garlic.
Meaning of Botanical Name
Allium is an ancient name for garlic, and in virtually every language this plant includes the regional word for bear in its name – the Latin is no different. The Latin for bear is Ursus hence ursinum, a reference perhaps to the strong smell or to a bear’s tendency to dig up wild garlic bulbs.
Kingdom: Plantae; Clade: Angiosperms; Clade: Monocots; Order: Asparagales; Family: Amaryllidaceae; Subfamily: Allioideae; Genus: Allium; Species: A. ursinum.
Reports of toxicity if eating sack fulls, but such outcomes no doubt apply to many foods eaten to excess.
Could be confused with
The leaves could potentially be confused with both the poisonous leaves of Lilly of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) and Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum), although neither of these smell of garlic. The biggest risk is to accidentally gather up Lords and Ladies leaves and Dog’s Mercury leaves through being inattentive. These leaves often grow amongst wild garlic.
Food Plant of….
If larger animals can get access to this plant, almost all will eat it, it’s said to affect the taste of cow’s milk and is a favourite among sheep.
Insects that are attracted include hoverflies, butterflies, longhorn beetles, and bees, which help wild garlic to pollinate.
Range and Distribution
Wild garlic is found all over Europe, most of Asia and North America.
It’s typically found in broad leaved woodland, enjoying a moist verge, preferring but not solely found on acidic soil. It tends to leaf and flower before the broad leaved trees come in to leaf and gives the whole woodland that amazing smell of garlic, marking the start of spring.
Wild garlic is a bulbous, perennial plant, going into leaf from as early as January. Its leaves are spear shaped with a sharp tip, and can range from 5-15cms in length and 3-6cm wide.
Each plant has one single flower head that sits on top of a solitary stem, shooting up from the centre of the connecting leaves and looks like a white pompom sat on top of a pole. The white flower contains 6 petals ranging from 0.5-1cm in diameter.
The root resembles that of a small but elongated clove of garlic.
Folklore, tall tales, and not so folklore
If you want to guarantee your safety from vampires on a full moon, living in a woodland of wild garlic is the key.
Roots and bulb: best harvested when the plant is not in leaf from June-January. Use the bulb as regular garlic although be aware that it is somewhat fibrous. The roots can be dried and powdered to be used as a seasoning. The bulbs also pickle well.
Stem/leaves (early Spring): salad item, cooked as a vegetable, to flavour oil, as a wrap, for pesto, leaf curd.
Flower bud (Feb/March): tempura (using stem as handle), pickled.
Flower (March/April): salads, as a garnish.
Immature seeds (May/June): salads, garnish, pickled.
Mature seeds (May/June): as a condiment or spice, for sprouting.
As with regular garlic, wild garlic helps to reduce blood pressure, therefore aiding heart disease and reducing the chances of a stroke. It’s also worth adding that wild garlic has antibacterial, antibiotic and antiseptic properties.
Collected from Jan-April, the protein extracted from the leaf makes a superb rich, green and intensely garlicky curd.
Parts for Dying
A green can be extracted from the leaf but it is incredibly light sensitive, although it works really well for leaf bashing as the leaves hold quite a lot of juice.
Suitability for Paper Making
The leaves of this plant make excellent paper, if you’re processing them with an alkali and you sufficiently wash and neutralize the alkali before pulling a sheet of paper, you can actually use the wild garlic paper for eating. It makes a good substitute for nori sheets!
Tips and Observations
If you plan on making wild garlic oil with this plant, either use very little wild garlic, about 1-2 leaves per 100ml or dehydrate the leaf on a very low heat before making the oil (or use dried roots and bulbs instead). Since the leaf holds so much water if it’s submerged it’s quite likely to go off and affect the taste to the oil.
The last word goes to…
Captain Cook who famously took lacto fermented cabbage on his voyages, not only as a preserved foodstuff but also to aid the prevention of scurvy among the crew whilst on board ship for long periods without access to fresh vegetables.