Plantain seed

The seeds and husks can be ground in a coffee grinder before use, or used whole.

Dose: 1 teaspoonful sprinkled on food, once to three times daily.

Greater plantain (Plantago major) in flower

Finding a swathe of ramsons (bear garlic) in a dark wood is one of the joys of early spring, with the bright green leaves and strong garlic smell tempting you to gather for the pot.

This is also a wonderful medicine for the digestive tract, and helps keep the heart and circulatio healthy. Ramsons cleanses the body, balancing th gut flora, and is effective in removing infections.

Liliaceae Lily family


Description: A bulb producing a carpet of greenery in damp wooded areas in spring, followed by beautiful white starry flowers in early summer. Up to 15" tall.

Habitat: Woodland, stream banks, and moist field sides.

Distribution: Widely distributed in the British Isles, Europe, and Asia. A garden plant in North America.

Related species: There are a number of Allium species found in North America that have similar uses to ramsons, including wild garlic (A. canadense) and the introduced field garlic (A. vineale). Use smell as your guide -if it smells strongly of garlic or onions, it is edible.

Parts used: Leaves, flowers, and sometimes bulbs.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. - Hippocrates (460- 377 BC)

Ramsons has been a folk medicine favorite in Europe since the ancient Greeks, its uses in both kitchen and medicine cabinet matching those of its cultivated garlic cousin. Its unusual common name probably comes from an Old English word, hramson, which unsurprisingly meant wild garlic; its second Latin name of ursinum, or bear, perhaps relating to the smell, seems to have little relation to British experience (though see Mrs Grieve's gripes on the next page!).

You don't find this wonderful herb for sale in an herb or health shop, so you have to harvest your own. Luckily, it is usually abundant where it grows, carpeting woods and dells with its pungent greenery in the early spring.

Ramsons has similar medicinal properties to garlic, with the added benefit of being tolerated well by people who have problems with onions or garlic. We hope you find it as delicious as we do.

Gourmet cooks and posh restaurants extol the piquant flavor of fresh ramsons leaves, but it is also there for you to forage. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Try them chopped and sprinkled on a variety of foods. A bright green garlic butter made from the leaves would be at home on a science fiction set, but is actually really tasty.

The bright white flowers can be used too, and are attractive and flavorsome sprinkled on salads. But note that once the flowers open, the palatability of the leaves decreases as they become harshertasting and less full-bodied.

Use ramsons for...

Fresh ramsons eaten in spring is a gentle tonic for the whole body. By "cleansing the blood" it also helps with skin problems. Like ordinary garlic, ramsons improves the circulation and helps protect the heart. Better circulation assists

Ramsons growing near High Force, Teesside, England, in May

Ramsons, the wild Wood Garlic, but for its evil smell would rank among the most beautiful of our British plants ... many woods are to be avoided when it is in flower, being so closely carpeted with the plants that every step taken brings out the offensive odour.

Continually sickly people ... should venerate ramsons like gold. No herb on earth is as effective for cleansing the stomach, intestines and blood.

- Abbé Kuenzle, quoted by Treben (1980)

memory and eyesight, and will genrally lift the health.

You can make a poultice for boils and minor cuts by mashing a fresh ramsons leaf to place on them, holding it in place with a sticking plaster. Reapply a couple of times a day until healed. Ramsons is a good antibacterial and antifungal agent, though not as strong as ordinary garlic.

Ramsons is one of the best medicines for bowel problems. Julie has found in patients that it can settle a digestive tract that has never been quite right since a gut infection. Also, ramsons balances the gut flora, and is beneficial for ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic gastroenteritis, colic, and flatulence - in fact, it helps relieve most forms of intestinal unhappiness.

Ramsons is best used as a fresh seasonal food and medicine but can be preserved for later use. Garlic tincture doesn't sound very appealing, however! Many herbalists recommend taking ramsons juice, which is effective, but we'd much rather have a few tablespoons of ramsons pesto or sauce and enjoy taking our medicine as food (recipes below).

Fresh ramsons leaf

• skin problems

• gas and bloating

• chronic colitis

• ulcerative colitis

Fresh leaf poultice

Ramsons pesto and sauce

• skin problems

• gas and bloating

• chronic colitis

• ulcerative colitis

Harvesting ramsons

Ramsons leaves can be harvested as soon as they appear in spring, and are at their best before the flowers open. The flowers are tasty, sprinkled on salads and other food. The bulbs can also be eaten, but we prefer to leave them to grow again the next year. Ramsons are locally abundant, so you should be able to harvest and preserve plenty of leaves without needing to disturb the bulbs.

Ramsons pesto

Put ramsons leaves and enough olive oil to cover them in a blender. Blend until smooth. This vivid green sauce can be eaten fresh with pasta just like the more familiar Italian pesto made with basil and garlic. You can alter the taste by adding chopped pine nuts or sunflower seeds and freshly grated pecorino cheese. It is delicious spooned onto savory foods and can be added to salad dressings. This pesto can be frozen in small batches for use throughout the year.

Ramsons sauce

Another way to preserve ramsons is to blend as above, but use 1 part cider or white wine vinegar to 3 parts olive oil as the liquid. The vinegar helps preserve the ramsons, and a jar of this will keep well in the fridge for months if it doesn't get eaten before then!

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