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Ramsons

Ramsons

[ram-zuhn, -suhn]

Ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic or bear's garlic (Allium ursinum) is a wild relative of chives. The specific name derives from the fact that brown bears like to eat the bulbs of the plant and dig up the ground to get at them, as do wild boar.

Ramsons grow mainly in swampy deciduous woodlands, being most common in areas with slightly acidic soils. They flower before the trees get their leaves and fill the air with their characteristic strong smell. The stem is triangular in shape and the leaves are similar to those of the Lily of the Valley. Unlike the related crow garlic and field garlic, the flower-head contains no bulbils, only flowers.

Ramsons' leaves are edible; they can be used as salad, spice, boiled as a vegetable, or as an ingredient for pesto in lieu of basil. The bulbs and flowers are also very tasty.

Ramsons' leaves are easily mistaken for Lily of the Valley leaves, and sometimes also with the leaves of Colchicum autumnale and Arum maculatum. All these three plants are poisonous and may even be deadly. A good way of ensuring that the leaves collected are in fact ramsons is grinding the leaves between one's fingers, which should produce a garlic-like smell.

Ramsons' leaves can be used as fodder as well. Cows that have fed on ramsons give milk that slightly tastes 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 ramsons comes from the mesolithic settlement of Barkaer (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 ramsons pollen in the settlement layer, this has been interpreted as evidence for the use of ramsons as fodder.

Ramsons (German: Bärlauch, i.e. 'bear's leek') have recently become very popular in German cuisine again. The town of Eberbach hosts an annual ramsons fair in March and April.

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