Allium ursinum, known as wild garlic, wild cowleek, ramsons, buckrams, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek or bear's garlic, is a bulbous perennial flowering plant in the amaryllis family Amaryllidaceae. It is native to Europe and Asia, where it grows in moist woodland. It is a wild relative of onion and garlic, which belong to the same genus as wild garlic, Allium.
The Latin name is possibly due to the brown bear's taste for the bulbs; folk tales describe the bears consuming them after awakening from hibernation. Another theory is that the "ursinum" may refer to Ursa Major, as A. ursinum was perhaps one of the most northerly distributed Allium species known to the ancient Greeks, though this hypothesis is disputed. Common names for the plant in many languages also make reference to bears.
Allium ursinum is a bulbous, perennial herbaceous monocot, that reproduces primarily by seed. The narrow bulbs are formed from a single leaf base and produce bright green entire, elliptical leaves up to 25 cm long x 7 cm wide with a petiole up to 20 cm long. The inflorescence is an umbel of six to 20 white flowers, lacking the bulbils produced by some other Allium species such as Allium vineale (crow garlic) and Allium oleraceum (field garlic).:394:902 The flowers are star-like with six white tepals, about 16–20 mm in diameter, with stamens shorter than the perianth.
It flowers in the British Isles from April to June,:394 starting before deciduous trees leaf in the spring. The flower stem is triangular in cross-section and the leaves are broadly lanceolate, similar to those of the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis).
It is native to temperate regions of Europe, from Britain east to the Caucasus. It is common in much of the lowland British Isles with the exception of the far north of Scotland, Orkney, Shetland, and the Channel Islands.
It grows in deciduous woodlands with moist soils, preferring slightly acidic conditions. In the British Isles, colonies are frequently associated with bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), especially in ancient woodland. It is considered to be an ancient woodland indicator species.
The leaves of A. ursinum are edible; they can be used as salad, herb, boiled as a vegetable, in soup, or as an ingredient for a sauce that may be a substitute for pesto in lieu of basil. The stems are preserved by salting and eaten as a salad in Russia. A variety of Cornish Yarg cheese has a rind coated in wild garlic leaves. The leaves can be pickled in the same way as Allium ochotense known as mountain garlic in Korea. The bulbs and flowers are also edible. It is used for preparing herbed cheese, a Van speciality in Turkey.
The leaves are also used as fodder. Cows that have fed on ramsons give milk that tastes slightly 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 A. ursinum comes from the Mesolithic settlement of Barkær (Denmark), where an impression of a leaf has been found. In the Swiss Neolithic settlement of Thayngen-Weier (Cortaillod culture), a high concentration of pollen from A. ursinum was found in the settlement layer, interpreted by some as evidence for the use of A. ursinum as fodder.
Similarity to poisonous plants
Plants that may be mistaken for A. ursinum include lily of the valley, Colchicum autumnale, Arum maculatum, and Veratrum viride or Veratrum album, all of which are poisonous. In Europe, where ramsons are popularly harvested from the wild, people are regularly poisoned after mistakenly picking lily of the valley or Colchicum autumnale.
Grinding the leaves between the fingers and checking for a garlic-like smell can be helpful, but if the smell remains on the hands, one can mistake a subsequent poisonous plant for bear garlic. When the leaves of A. ursinum and Arum maculatum first sprout, they look similar, but unfolded Arum maculatum leaves have irregular edges and many deep veins, while ramsons leaves are convex with a single main vein. The leaves of lily of the valley are paired, dull green and come from a single reddish-purple stem, while the leaves of A. ursinum emerge individually are initially shiny and are bright green.:320
- Allium tricoccum - North American wild leek (or "ramps", a cognate of "ramsons")
- Allium ampeloprasum - Eurasian broadleaf wild leek
- Allium victorialis
- List of Allium species
- Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
- GRIN-CA Archived 2019-01-12 at the Wayback Machine, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
- Sobolewska, Danuta; Podolak, Irma; Makowska-Wąs, Justyna (2015). "Allium ursinum: botanical, phytochemical and pharmacological overview". Phytochemistry Reviews. 14 (1): 81–97. doi:10.1007/s11101-013-9334-0. ISSN 1568-7767. PMC 4352197. PMID 25774103.
- Kolosova, Valeria; Svanberg, Ingvar; Kalle, Raivo; Strecker, Lisa; Özkan, Ayşe Mine Gençler; Pieroni, Andrea; Cianfaglione, Kevin; Molnár, Zsolt; Papp, Nora; Łuczaj, Łukasz; Dimitrova, Dessislava (2017-02-21). "The bear in Eurasian plant names: motivations and models". Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 13 (1): 14. doi:10.1186/s13002-016-0132-9. ISSN 1746-4269. PMC 5320662. PMID 28222790.
- "Ramsons names - Encyclopedia of Life". eol.org. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
- Clapham, A.R.; Tutin, T.G.; Warburg, E.F. (1981). Excursion Flora of the British Isles (Third ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521232902.
- Reader's Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain. Reader's Digest. 1981. p. 383. ISBN 9780276002175.
- Stace, C. A. (2010). New Flora of the British Isles (Third ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521707725.
- Anderberg, Arne. "Den Virtuella Floran, Allium ursinum L." Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, Stockholm, Sweden.
- "BSBI map Allium ursinum". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.
- British Wildlife - April 1999 - Francis Rose, Indicators of ancient woodland: The use of vascular plants in evaluating ancient woods for nature conservation, p. 246 Archived 2011-10-05 at the Wayback Machine
- Johannes Seidemann (2005). World spice plants. Springer. p. 27. ISBN 978-3-540-22279-8. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
- Institut Fur Pflanzengenetik Und Kulturpflanzenforschung Gatersleben (COR) (11 May 2001). Mansfeld's Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops: (Except Ornamentals). Springer. pp. 2251–. ISBN 978-3-540-41017-1. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
- British Cheese Board - Lynher Farms & Dairies: Cornish Yarg
- Koch, Ryusei Hosono, Matthias. "Pickled Mountain Garlic Korean Vegetarian Sidedish Recipe ✪ Japanese & Korean Recipes". Asiatischer Foodblog RyuKoch.com. Retrieved 2020-12-29.
- Kühn, Marlu; Maier, Ursula; Herbig, Christoph; Ismail-Meyer, Kristin; Bailly, Matthieu Le; Wick, Lucia (2013-02-01). "Methods for the examination of cattle, sheep and goat dung in prehistoric wetland settlements with examples of the sites Alleshausen-Täschenwiesen and Alleshausen-Grundwiesen (around cal 2900 BC) at Lake Federsee, south-west Germany". Environmental Archaeology. 18 (1): 43–57. doi:10.1179/1461410313Z.00000000017. ISSN 1461-4103. S2CID 140699993.
- Gilotta, Irene; Brvar, Miran (2010). "Accidental poisoning with Veratrum album mistaken for wild garlic (Allium ursinum)". Clinical Toxicology. 48 (9): 949–952. doi:10.3109/15563650.2010.533675. ISSN 1556-3650. PMID 21171854. S2CID 207657813.
- Risk of mix-up with bear's garlic - BfR warns pickers about fatal consequences of mistaking free-growing poisonous plants for bear’s garlic, German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment; 2005
- Blamey, M.; Fitter, R.; Fitter, A (2003). Wild flowers of Britain and Ireland: The Complete Guide to the British and Irish Flora. London: A & C Black. ISBN 978-1408179505.
- Kusak, Josip; Huber, Djuro (1998). "Brown Bear Habitat Quality in Gorski Kotar, Croatia". Ursus. 10: 281–291. ISSN 1537-6176. JSTOR 3873137.
- Nature Spot - Portevinia maculata
- Woodland Trust - Ramsons
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Allium ursinum.|
- Tutin, T.G. 1957. Biological flora of the British Isles: Allium ursinum. Journal of Ecology 45(3) pp.1003-1010.
- Ramsons at Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages
- Data related to Allium ursinum at Wikispecies