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Wild Garlic - Allium ursinum

Wild Garlic poking through soil & leaf mulch
Spring awakens, albeit slowly, but slowly is one of the ways of nature. A time of re-birth, new beginnings, longer days, wildlife migrations & when nutrient rich plants begin to stir from their wintry slumber. Wild Garlic is one of Springs earliest wild green visitors & one of my favourites - I love to pick the fresh young leaves as I walk along and nibble on them, savouring their sweet, pungent & powerful flavour, delighting in their warm oils as they coat my mouth & tongue, making them tingle; the joys of sensory delight! Ramsons appear, prior to foliage emering on deciduous trees thus enabling this clever and adaptive plant to take advantage of early spring sunshine - and who doesn't like to do that...

Gentle ambling and careful observation will enable you to focus & zone in. Look in warmer, sunnier, sheltered locations for signs of early growth. You'll find some patches are in a more advanced state of growth, whereas others are just poking through the soil.
Once in full swing this plant carpets woodland floors, streams & riverbanks, greening with it's beautifully soft, shiny, smooth oval leaves & scenting the air with it's powerful fragrance -  to the unwary & unobservant eye, this is the way it first makes it's presence known, via the olfactory. Just about everyone in the UK will have a location within 10 minutes walk or drive where WG grows. Take care if you've never picked it before, there are a couple of toxic plants that tend to grow with or alongside WG and these are Lily of the Valley and Arum Lily (Lords & Ladies). Lily of the Valley bears a striking resemblance, Arum Lily does too but only when first emerging (once its leaves fully open there is no mistaking); if the plant you pick doesn't hum of garlic then it's not wild garlic! Exercise mindful harvesting when picking WG, don't just grab & tear handfuls and throw them hotch-potch into your bag or container (this is when you could inadvertently pick the toxic ones alongside), take your time, be selective and gentle. If in any doubt and as earlier mentioned, the unmistakable aroma of garlic will help guide you and if I remember correctly there are no garlic smelling plants that are toxic.


Ramson Flowers
As spring progresses, a long, thin, yet sturdy spike, with a papery textured, rugby ball shaped head slowly and methodically climbs upwards from the centre of the plant (this is where the flowers emerge from), and shortly afterwards, these casings give way as numerous tiny white, star like flowers burst forth. Besides the forager, many insects are also attracted to these flowers. Once the flowers are finished it's time for the fruits/seeds, each flower head becomes a fused together triple-capsule and in each sits one tiny dark brown seed. If you are going to eat or pickle the seed heads
do so as soon as the flower petals have dropped off, too late in the
season and they become rock hard.

Ramson Fruits. Seeds within
After the fruit/seed stage the plants begin to die back, the leaves and seeds are usually past their best at this stage and you'll have to wait until next Spring :)






Identification
Bulbs exposed by flooding

Bulbs: Approx 2cm - 6cm long, cylindrical - often fatter middle 3rd, pale white/dirty yellow in colour

Leaves: Oval, mid to deep green in colour, smooth, shiny appearance, sweet pungent garlic aroma when crushed. Can grow up to 30cm in length (I have some images of some huge leaves I picked last year but images belong to Walter Lewis and I need permission before using. I hope to add image at later date)

Flower Pods: Cylindrical when young becoming more 'rugby ball' shaped when approaching flowering time. Outer skin is smooth and 'tacky' to the touch, becoming drier and more papery like prior to flowers emerging.

Flowers: White, star like, 5/6 petals, multiple flowers per spike (see image further up article on right)
                                                                                 
Fruits: Triple-capsule, each capsule contains a dark brown seed (see image further up article on right)

Edibility & Uses: All parts are edible and delicious. Remember though, it's illegal to dig up bulbs without land owners permission. Recipes at the foot of this page.

One of my favourite ways of preserving Ramson is via the process of lacto-fermentation. Lacto-fermentation is an ancient technique and is one of the simplest there is and the results are truly spectacular; link to article on how to ferment is at the foot of this post.

Pickled Wild Garlic Bulbs
Bulbs are great added to soups, stews, stir fry, in fact add to anything you like, whole or chopped. Milder in flavour than commercial garlic & cooking does reduce the flavour. They pickle well on their own or can be added to chutneys - just make certain you have the correct bulbs!

Leaves are excellent raw, slice fine and add to mixed wild salads or use to garnish other dishes. Cooked they tend to lose their flavour a touch but certainly not to the detriment of the dish. Lacto-fermented Wild Garlic is possibly my favourite way of preserving the leaves. Pesto is popular, as is Wild Garlic in oil (recipe at foot of article). In fact the leaves can be added to just about any dish you can imagine (I've never put them with sweet dishes though, hmm...you never know!)

Flower pods are fantastic pickled (see recipe at foot of article), reminiscent of pickled onions, great in salads and added chopped to a wild tartar sauce. Again very versatile, play about and have fun.

Flowers are delicious raw, with a real hot garlicky twang to them, scatter on salads, add to sandwiches.

Fruits also pickle well but do preserve before they become too hard to eat, scatter in salads, great accompaniment to cheeses and meats.

Bulbs & Shoots ready for pickling & lacto-fermenting
Dish incorporating fermented Ramsons














Wild Garlic & Pheasant Dolmades: https://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/pheasant-and-wild-garlic-dolmades.html

Wild Garlic Soup: http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/p/recipes_11.html

Sweet Pickled Ramson Flower Pods/Bulbs/Fruits: http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/p/recipes-pickling.html


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