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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

A Tiny Natural Wonder

I have just done a short photo walk in Dartmouth in Devon. I have explored this small town on several occasions but always seem to find some small part of it I have not discovered before. I won't be posting the photos for a while yet but I just had to share these as soon as I could, because now is the time to see this tiny miracle, and this year seems to be a bumper crop.

This is Wild Garlic, or Ramsons, or Allium ursinum to use its scientific nomenclature. My foody friend Russ, in the US, calls them Ramps. They are also called Bear's Garlic. The ursinum in the official name relates to bears as does Ursa Major in The Great Bear constellation.

It is related to onions and leeks and the garlic you get in your kitchen, and they are all Alliums. Brown bears are thought to be particularly partial to the bulbs, hence the name. Common names in many languages make reference to bears. You are quite safe here though as there are no bears in Dartmouth.

Cows love them and as they are particularly common in Devon, cows and Ramsons both, there have been anecdotal tales of farmers having their milk rejected due to the garlic scent that carries into the milk.

Huddersfield Chronicle - Monday 21 August 1893

Throughout many parts of England, in moist woods, hedges, aud meadows, grows the wild garlic, strong smelling, and having one or two broad, large, egg-shaped, bright green leaves. It is often called ramsons (" ramse " being rank of odour), or buck rampe, having flowers of pure white with acute petals. A well-known old saying runs to the effect that to Eat leeks in Lyde (March) aud ramsins in May, All tho year after physicians shall play.

Take care cooking with the leaves if picked when there is no flower as they look very similar to Lily of the Valley which is highly toxic, and I mean toxic enough to kill. The flowers though are very different, making them easier to distinguish. These are star like, while Lily of the Valley are bell like.

They are often found mixed with Bluebells as they both like similar conditions, but this particular wood had no bluebells.

The leaves of A. ursinum can be used as salad, herb, boiled as a vegetable, in soup, or as an ingredient for a sauce that may be a substitute for pesto in lieu of basil. Leaves are also often used to make garlic butter.

Always take care foraging wild plants both for safety reasons and because of the law. Please note that as with all foraging, you’ll need the landowner's permission and should only ever pick as much as you need. It is illegal to dig the wild garlic plant up by its roots, however much of it there is, on common ground.

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