Wednesday, 4 May 2016


Those of you who know and love Brother Conradus – who became the abbey cook in the course of my Hawk and the Dove series – may remember that he took the trouble to go out into the woods and gather ramsons for the abbey kitchens.

Some of you will know all about ramsons, others will not; so, as they are growing abundantly and in glorious bloom just now, I thought a few ramsons thoughts might interest you.

Otherwise known as Wild Garlic, ramsons emanate a wonderful aroma of garlic in the air all around. For flavor, they taste of garlic, but a far more delicate flavor than regular garlic.

Their Latin name is Allium Ursinum. The Ursinum part of course refers to bears, and that came about because brown bears like ramsons and dig up the bulbs to eat.

Ramsons are nice lightly steamed, added to salad – basically anywhere you might include chives or scallions, ramsons are a good alternative, with a garlic rather than onion flavor. Apparently cases of poisoning happen when people are looking for ramsons to add to their recipes – but I find this puzzling. I’ve read that it’s because people gather lily of the valley by mistake – but it would be a sadly impaired nose that could confuse lily of the valley with garlic, would it not? They are also sometimes confused with Autumn Crocus and Lords-and-Ladies. The crucial clue is – do they smell of garlic? If so, they are ramsons; if not, they aren’t.

You can also feed them to cows (and it’s said that makes the milk garlicky) or substitute them for basil in pesto (completely different taste results, obviously). Cornish Yarg cheese is sometimes made wrapped in ramsons rather than nettles, and in Turkey they chop it into the curds in cheese production.

There’s evidence that people have been eating ramsons as far back as the stone age – though the ones who ate lily of the valley by mistake expired.

Just now the woods are full of them. Our Hebe took these pictures on her walk today.


Optimistic Existentialist said...

What a beautiful and poetic path...

Pen Wilcock said...


My roots are in Yorkshire, though I grew up in Hertfordshire, but I've lived in Sussex so long now and come to love it so much. There is something wild and peaceful and left-to-be about Sussex. It's a place where a soul can breathe.


Crystal said...

Apparently you can get botulism from wild garlic if you store it in oil: in 1989 the FDA banned certain garlic-in-oil mixes for that reason. The problem is that when you chop up fresh produce and cover it in oil, you're giving anaerobic Clostridium botulinum bacteria a good growing environment. Maybe that is how people were dying?

Pen Wilcock said...

Ooh - maybe so! I just read that people had eaten the wrong plant, but what you suggest sounds much more likely! That could create a dangerous problem with the pesto too, couldn't it? Maybe better to stick to chopping it fresh straight into an omelette or salad (which is what we do) and not try to store it al all.

Stevie said...

Guess what my daughters just gave me for Mother's Day? Books seven and eight of The Hawk and The Dove series! I'm so excited!
Happy Mother's Day y'all!

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh - God bless you (and them!) I do hope you enjoy the stories. Thank you so much for dropping by to let me know.