Thursday 16 August 2018

Leaves, flowers and bulbs of wild garlic all edible

Ramsons is a wild garlic that carpets damp woodlands at this time of year
Ramsons is a wild garlic that carpets damp woodlands at this time of year

Jim Hurley - Nature trail

In my neck of the woods, the past month has been a great time for Ramsons. It was also a great time of Dandelions and Three-cornered Garlic but not a great year for Bluebells.

Ramsons and Three-cornered Garlic are both members of the large lily family. The genus or sub-division of the family that they are both members of is the onion genus and that group of plants comprises all the wild chives, onions, garlics and leeks.

Even without bruising the leaves of Ramsons, it is impossible at this time of year to escape the scent of garlic in the air on a walk through a woodland carpeted with their white, star-shaped flowers.

The true Garlic, beloved of some for seasoning and flavouring food, not to mention warding off vampires, is native to Central Asia and north-eastern Iran. It is cultivated in Ireland as a garden plant and horticultural crop and some throw-outs have managed to survive as casuals in the wild, mainly in coastal areas in the north-west. So, it is an alien introduction.

The Three-cornered Garlic is also an alien introduction from abroad. Its native range is the western Mediterranean. It looks like a white bluebell, has a tree-cornered stems when rolled between finger and thumb, smells and tastes of garlic, and grows in profusions along roadside verges as a very invasive weed, mainly in the south and east of the country.

Ramsons is our native wild garlic. Its range extends across Europe to the Caucasus and neighbouring Russia. In countries where wild boars occur these pigs root up the plants' very small bulbs and eat them as a source of food. Similarly, bears seek them out dig them up when they emerge from hibernation and that proclivity has given the plant its botanical name Allium ursinum, 'bears' onion'.

Like the Three-cornered Garlic, Ramsons has tree-cornered stems when rolled between finger and thumb. It grows about knee-high. Its dark green leaves are long and pointed and its white-petalled flowers are borne in upright clusters. It thrives in damp, shaded areas and when suitable habitat occurs it can carpet the ground extensively.

The leaves, flowers and bulbs of Ramsons are all edible and are used to make pesto, are eaten raw in salads and sandwiches or are cooked to make soup. The small green bulbs are sometimes used as a substitute for capers. While Ramsons is popular with people as a wild food, it is said to be toxic if eaten by dogs.

Sligo Champion