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Star-shaped, pure white flowers, a pungent odour; yes, it’s a bed of wild garlic!

A prolific relative of the chive, this plant grows in shady, damp locations, especially deciduous woodlands, all over Europe. This particular bed is in a lovely woodland near the village of Shincliffe, County Durham, where part of my family live within sight of the magnificent tower of Durham Cathedral. This member of the Allium family has many alternative names – wild garlic, buckrums, Ramsons, broad-leafed garlic, wood garlic, and, derived from its Latin name, Allium ursinum, Bear’s garlic. Eurasian Brown Bears (Ursus arctos arctos) love this plant, and regularly grub it up for food in spring.

The wood garlic can be confused, when it is sprouting, with no less than three other plants, all of which are toxic! The best test is to crush the leaves between the fingers, when the strong garlic odour is released. Better still, wait until the flowers form as they are very distinctive. The flowers, bulbs, leaves and stems are ALL edible, and they make a tasty addition to any salad. It has a less strong taste than the commercially grown bulbs, and, as such, might be prefered by some people.

Early European prehistoric peoples used A. ursinus as fodder for their domestic animals, and as food. Modern uses include a naturopathic compound, prepared by a German chemist, containing A. ursinus and rose hips which is supposed to increase a person’s energy, and utilises the plant’s high levels of sulphur (around 7.0%).

All in all, this is a really valuable plant. I, personally, think that the vampires are not scared away by the smell, but by the presence of so many brown bears!

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