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The place name and English surname Ramsdale are both likely derived from Ramsons, being a widespread colloquial name for wild garlic Allium Ursinum, the likely derivation of which is
- the Anglo Saxon word hramsa meaning rank - the butter and milk of cows which have eaten Ramsons is said to be bitter (rank)
- Old English hramsa dael meaning wild garlic valley
Wild garlic grows abundantly throughout the UK, preferring semi-shade under trees. It will succeed in most soils and prefers moist conditions, though it will also succeed where the soil is very wet in the winter. When given suitable conditions, it will form a dense carpet of growth and can be very invasive. The plant comes into growth in the middle to late winter, flowers in the spring and then dies down completely by the middle of summer. This allows many other plants that come into growth in spring to grow in the same space.
A. ursinum is an excellent companion plant in the garden, it grows well with most plants and seems to positively affect their health and their ability to resist pests and diseases. It does not seem to grow so well with plants in the pea and bean family, however, with many gardeners noticing reduced growth and vigour in both species.
All parts of this plant are edible in quantity when it is in season. The leaves are delicious raw or cooked and can be harvested as early as the middle of January in mild winters. They have a distinct garlic flavour, though are milder than garlic cloves, and really add something special to a winter salad. When cooked, they are normally used as a flavouring in soups, stews etc, though can be used like spinach.
As the flowers begin to open in the middle of spring, the leaves start to lose their vitality. At this time transfer your attention to the flowers, using them in exactly the same way as the leaves. They have a somewhat stronger flavour and make a decorative and very 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.
The bulb can also be eaten raw or cooked, and can be harvested all year round, though is best used when the plant is dormant from July to December or January. It has a fairly strong garlic flavour, though it is quite small and fiddly to harvest.
From the health perspective, wild garlic has most of the benefits of the cultivated garlic, A. sativum. 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. The juice of the plant has been used as a general household disinfectant.
Allium ursinum has antibacterial and antifungal properties, as well as antioxidant properties that protect against free radicals. It may activate macrophages to reduce the synthesis of LDL cholesterol and protect against plaques and blood clots. Adenosine acts as a muscle relaxant and as a protectant against poisons, such as caffeine. It helps increase blood vessel width and can also reduce platelet aggregation (blood stickiness).
A. ursinum was declared the "1992 Medicinal Plant of the Year" by the Association for the Protection and Research on European Medicinal Plants. Allium ursinum has all the benefits of Allium sativum products on the market but also has three advantages over this domesticated garlic:
- it has more of the active substances
- it has active substances not found in cultivated garlic, or found only when large quantities are taken
- it is odourless
Once this plant is established in your garden, you are unlikely to be without it, or to need to propagate it. However, should you want to introduce it to a new site, either
- harvest the seed in early summer and sow it immediately either in situ (if you have masses of the seed) or in trays in a cold frame. It usually germinates well and should produce plants large enough for harvesting in the third year of growth; or
- dig up some bulbs in the summer, once the plants have died down, and plant them immediately into their new site. They will be ready for harvesting from their second year of growth.