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David Watson Hood, visual artist.
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Wild garlic: Allium ursinum L. Bear Garlic, Creamh, Gairgean, Garleag, Garlic, Ramps, Ramsons, Wild Garlic, Wild leek.


Wild garlic: Allium ursinum L.I was amazed to discover in my researches that a Scottish company is exporting half a ton of this plant a week to the U.S.A. as a gourmet food, (2001 figures). It is a wild plant that conveniently is ready to eat well before most things in the garden. It is also well suited to an intermediate strategy between gathering and horticulture/farming. That is the growing of non-domesticated plants (not genetically modified by controlled breeding) in convenient places under a degree of protection from competition and/or light cultivation. This is a strategy that was long used in northern Scotland, most notably for Silverweed, Potentilla anserina, (a major pre-potato source of calories for northwest Scotland) but also for other native species.

Almost three decades ago I asked for garlic sausage in the village shop, to provoke the same shocked reaction now as I got then I would have to ask for force fed, live boiled, kitten pâté. Food taboos are fascinating in that they seem to appear suddenly, within one or two generations, and influence whole cultures for no rational reason then after a few centuries they may disappear again under outside influence, as the garlic taboo mostly has. How and why sometime in the late 19th century, I think, did a food that for millennia had been so much used become the subject of such intense disgust. I find even stranger as I cannot find out when or why it happened the way in which after thousands of years of eating snails, most of the population of Britain have developed such an intense cultural aversion to them while many have kept eating the much less pleasant tasting winkle, which is after all just a marine snail.

So long has wild garlic been venerated as a medicinal and indeed so many are its actions that it has been used in many ailments beside those listed below. It is the Holy Grail that commerce seems to now be seeking, a medicinal food. Indeed its general anti-infection properties and comparative safety probably often encouraged its default use in most conditions 'to be on the safe side'.

Non-medical uses of wild garlic
Edible Parts: Flowers, Leaves, Root.
Leaves, raw or cooked. Usually available early in the year. The leaves make a very nice addition to salads, and are especially welcome as a vital and fresh green leaf in early spring. Flowers, raw or cooked. These are somewhat stronger than the leaves, in small quantities they make a decorative and tasty addition to salads. The flowering heads can still be eaten as the seed pods are forming, though the flavour gets even stronger as the seeds ripen. Bulb, raw or cooked. A fairly strong garlic flavour, though it is quite small and fiddly to harvest. The bulbs can be harvested at any time the plant is dormant from early summer to early winter. Harvested in early summer, they will store for at least 6 months. The bulbs can be up to 4cm long and 1cm in diameter. The small green bulbils can be used as a caper substitute.
The juice of the plant is used as a moth repellent. The whole plant is said to repel insects and moles. The juice of the plant has been used as a general household disinfectant.

Medicinal uses of wild garlic
Anthelmintic, Antiasthmatic, Anticholesterolemic, Antiseptic, Antispasmodic, Astringent, Cholagogue, Depurative, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Expectorant, Febrifuge, Hypotensive, Rubefacient, Stimulant, Stomachic, Tonic, Vasodilator.
Definitons of medical actions

Wild garlic has most of the health benefits of the cultivated garlic, Allium. sativum, though it is weaker in action. It is therefore a very beneficial addition to the diet, promoting the general health of the body when used regularly. It is particularly effective in reducing high blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. It is recognised as having a good effect on fermentative dyspepsia. All parts of the plant can be used, but the bulb is most active. Ramsons ease stomach pain and are tonic to the digestion, so they can be used in the treatment of diarrhoea, colic, wind, indigestion and loss of appetite. The whole herb can be used in an infusion against threadworms, either ingested or given as an enema. The herb is also beneficial in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. The juice is used as an aid to weight loss and can also be applied externally to rheumatic and arthritic joints where its mild irritant action and stimulation to the local circulation can be of benefit.
Traditionally used in Scotland for treating kidney stones and gravel. It has been suggested it may also have antiviral properties.
Very recent research has proposed Allium. sativum as useful in cases of erectile dysfunction.

Sources:
Plants For A Future, www.pfaf.org/index.html,
Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/, Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions of Europe.
FLORA CELTICA: SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF SCOTTISH PLANTS paper by William Milliken and Sam Bridgewater Edinburgh, Development Consultants and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, 2001

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