The birds have been singing on the top of their lungs, announcing finally and irrevocably that spring is here at last. It came in with a blast of flowers that seemed to be popping up all at once, and now there is a veritable flood of petals both on the ground and in the trees. It is a lush and exuberant time - sheer bliss for any and all nature spirits. And it is incredibly hard to stay put, in front of a screen.
If you have been out there enjoying this blooming bliss, you might have noticed that in some parts of the woods there is a strong whiff of garlic lingering among the trees. You probably will have smelled it long before you discovered its likely source - a small, but prolific plant, with broad leaves and a single flower stalk that rises from the center and explodes into a white globe of star like, white little flowers. You have discovered Ramson (Allium ursinum), also known as wild garlic. This is a favourite foraging herb, prolific, tasty, versatile and very healthy.
All parts of this plant are edible, but personally, I usually restrict my gathering to the leaves, just to safeguard the continued proliferation of this herbal treasure. I also don't take the whole plant, but only some, preferably young, leaves from each. One does end up gathering lots though, as during cooking it is quickly reduced in bulk.
Be careful to wash the leaves very well to get rid of any fox tapeworm eggs, which can be very harmful (even fatal) in humans. Fox tapeworm lodges in the liver or lungs, but can reside there undetected for years. Foragers should get regular check ups for this infection after each season, though blood tests are not 100% accurate. Still, they may give some indication. If detected early the worm can be treated/operated upon successfully, but if left too late it can destroy the liver. This safety warning applies to all foraged herbs, berries and mushrooms, but particularly to those that grow close to the ground and are thus more like to be exposed to fox feces.
But I don't want to spoil your appetite, or your foraging passion. Infection rates are very low, even among people who spend a lot of time in the woods and have a passion for gathering from the wild. Drying or heating destroys most organisms. Make a Ramson soup or prepare a pesto, but simmer the Ramson briefly or at least, be sure to wash it VERY WELL.
The medicinal value of this plant is very similar to that of cultivated garlic. It is rich in vitamin C and iron and makes a great blood cleansing herb that has a long history as a favourite tonic spring herb. It can help to reduce arteriosclerosis and to reduce the blood pressure. Large quantities can have a drastic effect on the digestive tract. Although this herb finds little use in modern herbal medicine, it is a perfect tonic of the 'food as medicines' category.
Here are some of my favourite recipes:
Take 1 big handful of fresh, young Ramson leaves and wash thoroughly. Take another handful of fresh Basil and place both in a blender. Cover with Olive oil and blend till smooth. Add 200g finely grated parmesan cheese and stir in until it is smoothly blended in. Add some coarsely ground pine nuts or walnuts.
This pesto is very versatile - you can stir it into freshly cooked pasta, blend with crumbly goats cheese or feta cheese and use as a stuffing for home made ravioli, stir into a mixture of fresh goats cheese and cottage cheese to create a tasty bread spread, or whatever you fancy.
Ramson has a very strong flavour, which is why it is best to blend it with another herb. Basil works great, as the two complement each other well. Other herbs you can use are chickweed, dandelion leaves or lambs quarters. Oil marinated, sun dried tomatoes also make an excellent addition to this pesto recipe.
Collect both the leaves and bulbs of early ramson. Clean well. Chop the bulbs of about 4 mature plants and fry quickly in olive or butter in a heavy skillet. Add a handful of chopped mushrooms and sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of spelt flour on top. Stir vigorously to avoid burning. Pour a litre of vegetable broth on top and add the young, fresh, well cleaned and chopped leaves of 4 Ramson plants. Add sufficient water to cover all. Simmer until everything is soft and blended in well. Season to taste. Whip some cream until stiff and decorate each plate of soup with a big wallop of it, if you dare.
Ramson is an excellent complement to fish. A fish chowder with Ramson leaves and bulbs is a delight. You can also add a few fresh leaves to salads and omelettes to provide a little punch, but don't overdo it as it can quickly become overpowering. Also, large amounts of Ramson, especially fresh, have a pretty pungent effect on the digestive system too, so be prepared.
CAUTION: Inexperienced foragers may confuse this plant with the poisonous Lily of the Valley, or the Autumn Crocus. However, Ramson can be distinguished by the very distinctive, garlicky smell of its leaves, which the other plants lack. Once the flower head appears, there is no mistaking them. Learn how to identify them correctls before the flowers appear as Ramson is best collected while still young, before flowering. The bulbs can be collected after flowering, when the leaves have died down.
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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.