One of my favourite sights and smells of early May is Wild Garlic or Ramsons, Allium ursinum. Like Garlic Chives, this plant is both beautiful and edible, but it is also a common British wild flower. It is flowering at the moment in woodlands across the country, and in my back garden, where I introduced it several years ago.
Wild Garlic thrives in damp shade in deciduous woodland and often forms dense stands of wide green leaves, followed by groups of white flowers borne on stalks. The leaves resemble those of Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis, which are poisonous, but the strong garlic smell of Wild Garlic leaves is a giveaway. The smell gets stronger towards the end of May as the plants wilt and start to die down. By midsummer no leaves are visible and the Wild Garlic goes dormant again until the following spring.
If you grow Wild Garlic it will gradually spread if it likes where you’ve planted it and its black seeds will drop fairly close to the parent plant.
Wild Garlic is very pretty, especially en masse, but it is a great edible plant to grow as well. You can eat the bulbs if you grow it yourself or have the land owner’s permission, otherwise it is illegal to uproot it.
I often put a couple of leaves in a cheese sandwich but there are more sophisticated ways of eating it, such as these recipes on the BBC Food website and on the Guardian’s Word Of Mouth Blog. Wild Garlic is poisonous to dogs. According to Wikipedia, cows fed on Wild Garlic have milk that tastes slightly of garlic, and butter made from this milk was very popular in 19th century Switzerland. Wild Garlic is known as Baerlauch (Bear’s Garlic) in German because it was a popular spring food for Brown Bears. So, if you go down to the woods today…