Notes from the Apothecary
Notes from the Apothecary: Wild Garlic
Wild garlic or Allium ursinum is a fragrant perennial plant with tiny clusters of white flowers atop long, lush green leaves that don’t grow any higher than most people’s ankles. It’s also known as ramsons in Europe and ramps in the United States. Other related plants such as Allium canadense and Allium tricoccum are also called ramps or wild garlic, and just to be more confusing, you might also hear them called wild leeks or wood leeks.
Whatever you call them, there’s no escaping the fact that these plants are one of the most delicious smelling harbingers of spring. In the woods near where I live, you smell wild garlic before you see it, and even driving past the woods with the windows down draws in a smell similar to your favourite Italian restaurant: sensational savoury goodness.
The Kitchen Garden
Wild garlic is absolutely delicious! Okay, that’s a personal opinion, but anyone who loves garlic, onions, or chives will certainly enjoy the aroma and flavour of wild garlic. Because it’s generally eaten as a leafy green and is milder than traditional garlic, it’s incredibly versatile. You can use wild garlic for:
- Pasta sauces
- Pizza sauce and toppings
- Stuffing for meats or vegetables
- Flavouring condiments such as mayonnaise
- Flavouring butter or oils
- Seasoning fish
- Salsa verde
- In chutneys or other savoury preserves
It’s even possible to ferment wild garlic in brine, which allows you to store it for many weeks. The flowers are also edible, but many people say the leaves taste best if best picked before the plant blooms.
Ramps, the American variety of wild garlic, is particularly common in Appalachian cuisine. It’s not uncommon to find it fried up with potatoes, bacon, beans, or cornbread.
***Warning: If you are not an experienced forager, do not collect wild garlic from public woods and parks. It’s very easy to confuse with poisonous plants, particularly Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) which can cause stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and even heart problems.***
From folk medicine to proven nutritional benefits, wild garlic has so many uses within our apothecary. The leaves contain large amounts of vitamin C and beta-carotene. Vitamin C protects your cells and promotes healthy skin, bones, cartilage, and blood vessels. It’s also associated with a robust immune system. Beta-carotene is what the body transforms into vitamin A, also good for the immune system but vital for eye health and effective mucous membranes.
Wild garlic has also been associated with relief from rheumatic problems and high cholesterol. A 2017 study looked at how wild garlic affects the gastrointestinal system, and discovered that the plant has antimicrobial, spasmolytic (reduces spasms), and antioxidant properties.
In North America, the Cherokee use ramps for colds and croup, and as a general spring tonic. The juice may also be used for earaches. The Iroquois also utilise the plant’s nutritional content as a tonic as well as using the bulbs as a worm treatment for children.
Wild garlic is a critical part of the ecosystem, providing an important source of early food for pollinators including bees and numerous other insects. The bulbs are also a food source for wild boars in areas where they roam.
The Witch’s Kitchen
In North America, wild garlic has rich folklore connections. It’s highly associated with the start of spring and spring festivities, especially as it’s so rich in nutrients and ideal for warding off ailments caused by a lack of green vegetables during the winter. Look out for events like Richmond’s Feast of the Ramson in West Virginia every April, or the Cosby Ramp Festival in Tennessee. Food, music, dancing, and the crowning of the Maid of the Ramps or Ramp Queen feature at these incredible community events centred around these plants.
While much of the folklore surrounding ramsons or ramps tends towards its medicinal properties, it’s possible to extrapolate potential magical properties via its behaviour as a plant and where it grows. Wild garlic associations could include:
- Tenacity and persistence: it grows even in dark, shady places, thriving in the shadow of much larger plants
- Spring, renewal, the turning of the season, rebirth, new beginnings
- Transformation, which you will understand if you’ve ever seen the change a blanket of wild garlic can make to the woods!
- Any colour magic requiring white or green
I might also suggest offering wild garlic to any deities associated with spring, such as Brigid. She would probably appreciate the fact that you’re giving away some of your own foraged harvest, too.
For me, one of the most magical things about this fragrant plant is that it is a natural indicator of ancient woodland. Wherever wild garlic grows, it’s almost guaranteed that the surrounding area is comprised of old, native trees. The delicate white flowers of wild garlic are like silver treasure, pointing to an even greater, possibly invisible treasure both below and above them. If you spot this plant growing in nearby woodlands, try and find something out about the history of the area. You might discover some local lore or simply find an ancient and magical place to enjoy.
(Image 1: Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash, Image 2: Photo by Corina Rainer on Unsplash, Image 3: Photo by Red Dot on Unsplash)
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist and content creator. She’s a nature-based witch, obsessed with Irish and British Paganism and Folklore, plus she’s a massive plant nerd. She’s also a long-time Hekate devotee and a newbie Lokean. She works extensively with the UK Pagan Federation, including editing their bi-annual children’s magazine. Mabh is a passionate environmentalist and an advocate for inclusiveness and positive social transformation.
Mabh is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors, Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways, and most recently, Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Planet Friendly Living. Search “Mabh Savage” on Spotify and @Mabherick on all socials.