There are several plants in the Allium family that are sometimes known as wild garlic. They include Allium ursinum, Allium vineale, and Allium canadense. All three of them belong to the same family that also includes garlic and onion. All three of these wild garlic varieties share the same characteristics.
Allium ursinum is known and used all throughout Europe, which is where its origins lie. Its name varies from region to region and is usually a local translation of the word bear and the word garlic. The legend that may be the source of the name states that bears eat wild garlic upon awakening from their winter hibernation. Archaeological finds indicate that it was being used as far back as the Mesolithic period in certain parts of Northern Europe. In Germany, wild garlic has become a trendy herb in recent years and there are festivals held to celebrate it in cities like Erbach. Erbach holds a month-long spring fair to celebrate this herb each year. In England, wild garlic can go by the name ramson. Ramsons comes from the Old English hramsa, which means rank or bitter. Cattle that consume wild garlic are said to produce milk that is rank.
In the US, Allium canadense is a common wild herb. It is particularly common in parts of New England. It is also known as crow garlic or meadow garlic. This herb was used in cooking both by Native Americans as well as by early European settlers. It shows up in pioneer journals where it is reported as saving some pioneers from starvation. Similarly, wild garlic was consumed during the Lewis and Clark expedition to keep members of the party from getting scurvy.
Wild garlic is usually not cultivated. Instead, cooks forage for it.
Wild garlic (ramsons) flavor profile
Wild garlic has a similar flavor to garlic but is milder. Some varieties may have a stronger onion note similar to leeks or shallots.
Health benefits of wild garlic
Like others in the Allium family, wild garlic is full of beneficial compounds like:
- Minerals: Wild garlic is a great source of important minerals like iron and magnesium.
- Sulfur: Like cultivated garlic, wild garlic is full of health-enhancing sulfur compounds.
- Flavonoids: Wild garlic is an excellent source of flavonoids like kaempferol that are known to have antioxidant benefits.
The compounds in wild garlic can help to solve major health problems like:
- Circulatory disorders: The sulfur in wild garlic helps with the management of cholesterol and preventing clogged arteries.
- Cancer: extracts from wild garlic leaves have been shown to inhibit the growth of various types of cancers including breast, lung and colon cancer. In this regard, it is more beneficial than regular garlic.
- Problems with gut health: Like its cultivated relative, wild garlic can be beneficial for gut flora. Your gut flora has an impact on multiple aspects of your mental and physical health.
The leaves of wild garlic are foraged to make soups, sauces (similar to pesto), as well as cheeses. Those leaves can also be eaten raw like salad greens. You can also chop them finely and add them to mashed potatoes the way you might add chives. Wild garlic works best when it is added at the end of the cooking process or used raw since the flavor cannot stand up to much cooking. The flowers are edible and can be used to garnish salads.