Ramsons - the true Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic, also known as Ramsons (Allium ursinum) is not to be confused with Three Cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) which some people also call Wild Garlic. Today I want to focus on Ramsons - the native pungent wildflower, rather than its non-native counterpart, which is classified as an invasive species.

Ramsons is a bulbous perennial flowering plant in the Amaryllis family Amaryllidaceae, and a wild relative of Onion, Garlic and Leek. It is native to Europe and Asia and produces white flowers and edible leaves, flowers, and bulbs.

I feel very lucky to have Ramsons growing among the Bluebells in my local woodland of Courtmacsherry. In March, it carpets the ground with a display of long broad glossy leaves followed in April with spherical clusters of white, star-shaped flowers and a very strong smell of garlic. The individual flowers are 15-20mm long and growing in an umbel of 8-12 flowers on a slender stem that only has two basal leaves. 

Ramsons completes most of its life cycle before woodland canopies are in full leaf, thereby taking advantage of daylight and the rich humus of rotting leaves from previous years, but it can take as much as 4 years for it to reach reproductive maturity. The flowers are pollinated by bees, moths, hoverflies, beetles, and other flying insects. Ramsons is the primary larval host plant for the Ramsons hoverfly (Portevinia maculata), which tunnels through and overwinter in the bulbs.

The leaves are fit for human consumption but make sure you identify it correctly! Other similar leaves, like Wild Arum (Lords and Ladies) or Lily-of-the-Valley are highly poisonous. If in doubt, squeeze the leaves - the smell of garlic will convince you you've identified Ramsons accurately. The glossy leaves have a delicate garlic flavour that can be enjoyed raw and are best enjoyed before the plants bloom. They are delicious in sandwiches and used sparingly in salads. I make a pesto from the leaves which I add to pasta sauces or enjoy on a piece of toasted bread. You can also harvest and enjoy the flowers raw.

In the past, Ramsons was used to treat digestive disorders, rheumatism, high blood pressure and for the symptoms of respiratory illnesses, like colds and the flu.

Is there something you particularly like about Ramsons, or you have a good Wild Garlic recipe you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

📷 by Rodolph, Dominicus Johannes Bergsma, Robert Flogaus-Faust, RhinoMind

Illustration by Lizzie Harper

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