Ramson

Allium ursinum – known as ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek or bear's garlic – is a wild relative of chives native to Europe and Asia.[1] The Latin name is due to the brown bear's taste for the bulbs and its habit of digging up the ground to get at them; they are also a favorite of wild boar. In Europe, where ramsons are popularly harvested from the wild, similarity to poisonous plants regularly leads to cases of poisoning.[2]

Habitat

Allium ursinum grows in deciduous woodlands with moist soils, preferring slightly acidic conditions. It flowers before deciduous trees leaf in the spring, filling the air with their characteristic garlic-like scent. The stem is triangular in shape and the leaves are similar to those of the Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis). Unlike the related Allium vineale (crow garlic) and Allium oleraceum (field garlic), the flower-head contains no bulbils, only flowers.[3] In the British Isles, colonies are frequently associated with bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), especially in ancient woodland. It is considered to be an Ancient Woodland Indicator (AWI) species.[4]

Edibility

The leaves of A. ursinum are edible; they can be used as salad, spice,[5] boiled as a vegetable,[6] in soup, or as an ingredient for pesto in lieu of basil. The stems are preserved by salting and eaten as a salad in Russia. A variety of Cornish Yarg cheese has a rind coated in wild garlic leaves.[7] The bulbs and flowers are also edible, though less famed for their taste than the leaves.

The leaves are also used as fodder. Cows that have fed on ramsons give milk that tastes slightly of garlic, and butter made from this milk used to be very popular in 19th-century Switzerland.

The first evidence of the human use of A. ursinum comes from the Mesolithic settlement of Barkær (Denmark), where an impression of a leaf has been found. In the Swiss Neolithic settlement of Thayngen-Weier (Cortaillod culture) there is a high concentration of pollen from A. ursinum in the settlement layer, interpreted by some as evidence for the use of A. ursinum as fodder.

Similarity to poisonous plants

The leaves of A. ursinum are easily mistaken for Lily of the Valley, sometimes also those of Colchicum autumnale and Arum maculatum. All three are poisonous; potentially deadly incidents occur almost every year. Grinding the leaves between the fingers and checking for a garlic-like smell can be helpful, as long as the hands themselves do not retain the smell.[2] When the leaves of Allium ursinum and Arum maculatum first sprout they look similar, but unfolded Arum maculatum leaves have irregular edges and many deep veins while ramsons leaves are convex with a single main vein. The leaves of Lily of the Valley come from a single purple stem, while the leaves of A. ursinum have individual green-coloured stems.

See also

References

External links

  • Ramsons at Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages
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