Latin Name: Allium ursinum
Common Names: Ramsons, Wild Garlic
Other Names: Buckrams, Wood Garlic, Bear Leek
As March comes around, up pop the fresh green leaves of Wild Garlic, also known as Ramsons. After the bare months of winter these leaves form great carpets of green in shady places, below trees, in woodlands, and by rivers and streams. One of the most abundant of all wild foods.
Wild Garlic is easy to identify. When you pick a leaf and crush it you will smell an onion/garlic smell – very distinctive. It is a member of the allium family of onions, and is a wild relative of chives. The only other plant whose leaves are similar is lily of the valley, which is toxic. However if you crush a lily leaf it will not be aromatic, but wild garlic will have a distinctive onion type smell, it is easy to tell them apart.
The strange thing about wild garlic is that, for all its powerful aroma, the taste is much milder than conventional bulb garlic, it could even be called gentle.
Harvesting is easy. I have taken scissors out to cut ramson leaves, however it is not usually necessary as they snap off easily if you pick them in ones or twos. There is usually plenty of it and it grows fast early in the season. Soon after the leaves come up the flower stalks start to appear. These too are edible and tasty. The leaves and stalks, which are sweetest before the plants flower, and are at their peak in April.
The stalks grow tall and develop a delicious bud that opens into a pretty ball of white flowers (also edible). When the flowers die off, seed pods form (also edible) and later in July they will open and reveal small black seeds. Collect these if you can as they too taste very garlicky and are easy to store through the rest of the year, and can be sprouted in with other seeds.
The leaves and stalks will become limp within half a day of harvesting if they are not kept in a fridge, however they will keep for up to a week in the fridge if wrapped up.
The bulbs have a fairly strong garlic flavour and can be eaten either raw or cooked. The bulbs are harvested when the plant is dormant, that is from early summer to early winter. They are small and fiddly to harvest, but as they will keep for at least 6 months if harvested in early summer, they make the benefits of wild garlic available all year round. The bulbs can be up to 4cm long and 1cm in diameter. The small green bulbils are used as a caper substitute.
To enjoy the benefits of wild garlic throughout the year, as well as harvesting the seeds, you can dehydrate the leaves and stalks. When dry they will crumble like dried herbs, making them easy to store. Use liberally in food as a seasoning.
Nutrition and Healing
Like its relatives, wild garlic is antibacterial, antibiotic, antiseptic, and like bulb garlic, a potent healer. A real headline health benefit its effectiveness in reducing blood pressure, heart disease, and the risk of stroke. Although all garlic has this property, wild garlic has the greatest effect on lowering blood pressure by helping to increase blood vessel width, and can also reduce platelet aggregation (blood stickiness). It also contains twice the content of ACE inhibitors and other hypotensives found in cultivated garlic products and works via at least 3 distinct mechanisms.
Apparently an Old English Proverb went:
“Eat leeks in March and ramsons in May
And all the year after the physicians may play.”
The wisdom of this has been borne out with modern scientific testing methods. Compared to domesticated bulb garlic, wild garlic has a greater number of active medicinal substances, and often 2-4 times the potency, as well as being odourless. So it can achieve benefits that it would take huge, unpalatable amounts of bulb garlic to achieve.
Further benefical effects attributed to wild garlic are:
- improves microcirculation, like Ginkgo biloba
- blood sugar stabilisation
- reduces free-radical damage (it is an antioxidant)
- it reduces the effects of heart arrhythmias (twice the effectiveness of cultivated garlic)
- it lowers LDL and raises HDL through high levels of adenosine, which activates the lipid(fat)-lowering action of allicin (20 x more than in cultivated garlic).
- it eases stomach pain and is a tonic to the digestion, can be used in the treatment of diarrhoea, colic, wind, indigestion and loss of appetite.
- the whole herb can be used in an infusion against threadworms. Ingest or take as an enema.
- beneficial in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.
- the juice has been used as an aid to weight loss
- can be of benefit if applied externally to rheumatic and arthritic joints, where its mild irritant action will stimulate local circulation
The compounds in wild garlic are at the peak of their effects in the body within 5 hours of eating. Wild garlic is hypotensive, it lowers blood pressure, and this effect lasts for more than 24 hours after eating.
Ways to Use Wild Garlic
It is not hard to benefit from wild garlic, particularly if you have a couple of yummy uses for it up your sleeve.
My favourite way of eating it is as a pesto, but also
- chopped in salads (particularly when leaves are young)
- in green smoothies
- in raw soups
- dried as a salad sprinkle
- the seeds sprouted in a mixed sprouting
- in salads
- use the black seeds as an attractive garnish
If you are cooking, they are also great
- in soups and stews
- lightly steamed as a green vegetable mixed in with other leaves
- wilted in olive oil, butter or coconut oil
- cooked in a partnership with spinach (nettles too) or on its own, making a delicately garlicky dish.
They do reduce greatly on cooking, so what seems like a big bag will become enough for two!
As they are antibacterial, antibiotic and antiseptic, they can be used as part of a nature’s first aid kit as a disinfectant on scrapes and cuts inflicted whilst out.
The juice of the plant has been used as a general household disinfectant.
The juice of the plant has been used as a moth repellent.
The whole plant is said to repel insects and moles.
References and Links
Preuss HG, Clouatre D, Mohamadi A, Jarrell ST. Wild garlic has a greater effect than regular garlic on blood pressure and blood chemistries of rats. Int Urol Nephrol. 2001;32(4):525-30
Mohamadi A, Jarrell ST, Shi SJ, Andrawis NS, Myers A, Clouatre D, Preuss HG. Effects of wild versus cultivated garlic on blood pressure and other parameters in hypertensive rats. Heart Dis. 2000 Jan-Feb;2(1):3-9
Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World
Riotte. L. Companion Planting for Successful Gardening
Clouatre, Dallas, PhD “European Wild Garlic – The Better Garlic”
Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants
Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
Page created on: 2 April 2016
Page last updated on: 2 April 2016