The Healing Garden: WILD GARLIC
Botanical name: Allium ursinum
Synonyms: ramsons, buckrams, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, and bear garlic, hence the Latin name ‘ursinum’. Bears like to dig up and eat the bulbs, as do wild boar.
Family name: Amaryllidaceae commonly known as the amaryllis family
Medicinal/edible parts: All parts of the plant can be used: bulbs, leaves, flowers, and the mini bulbs that appear on the flowers as they go to seed.
Active constituents: vitamin C, B1 and B6, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium, antioxidant sulphur compounds, flavonoids, and volatile oil with high levels of allicin.
Wild garlic is native to Europe and Asia. Evidence of human use goes all the way back to a Danish stone age settlement called Barkær.
The leaves have sometimes been confused with the leaves of different poisonous plants, including lily of the valley, lords and ladies, dog’s mercury, or autumn crocus. But one simple test gives ample proof – the smell! – which gives away the volatile oil content.
Wild garlic likes damp soils in woods, copses, valleys and similar moist shady places, and ancient woodland, where it often grows together with bluebells.
You can start picking wild garlic as soon as the leaves appear. The young leaves are rich in vitamin C and are good antioxidants. They lose some of their flavour and power when the plant begins to concentrate its energy on flowering and fruiting. But then you can eat the flower instead; they look beautiful on a green salad. When the flowers turn into little mini bulbs, you can eat those too. They are very tasty. Both seed bulbs and underground bulbs have a fine strong taste somewhere between garlic, chives and white onion.
Wild garlic is good in soups and salads, or cooked like spinach, in a sauce, or in pesto. The stems can also be pickled in salt and used as an addition to salads.
Wild garlic can be used as a milder form of cultivated garlic, the bulb being the strongest in both. The juice is antiseptic, and the whole plant is effective for lowering high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels, and it can be used as a milder form of the drugs that are used to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. It can also be used to help other cardiovascular problems, such as hardened arteries, and to stimulate circulation and lower fever. Wild garlic is a natural antimicrobial and is also useful for lung problems such as coughs and bronchitis, and even emphysema. The whole herb is an effective worming remedy. To treat threadworms, make an infusion and drink it or use it as an enema.
- Use wild garlic fresh or frozen, or preserved in oil or vinegar.
By Kirsten Hartvig ND, MNIMH, DipPhyt, registered naturopath and medical herbalist, The Healing Garden, Emerson College. www.thehealinggarden.uk