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Ramsons

Allium ursinum

  • Name also: Buckrams, Wild Garlic, Bear’s Garlic, Wood Garlic, Broad-leaved Garlic
  • Family: Amaryllis Family – Amaryllidaceae, subfamily Allioideae
    (formerly Garlic Family – Alliaceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Lacking rootstock, bulb long, narrow, white.
  • Height: 15–40 cm (6–16 in.). Stem 3-edged, leafless. Very strong onion-like fragrance.
  • Flower: Perianth regular (actinomorphic), white, approx. 1 cm (0.4 in.) broad; tepals 6. Stamens 6. Pistil of 3 fused carpels. Inflorescence a dense, 6–10-flowered umbel, flower-stalks quite long (10–15 mm (0.4–0.6 in.)), lacking bulbils. 1–3 membranous bracts under inflorescence surround it in budding phase.
  • Leaves: Basal leaves 2(–3), long-stalked, base sheath-like. Blade lanceolate, flat, with entire margins, parallel-veined.
  • Fruit: 3-loculidad, 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) long capsule. Seeds black, globose.
  • Habitat: Broad-leaved forests, coppices, stream banks. Also an ornamental, occasionally wild.
  • Flowering time: May–June.
  • Endangerment: Least concern, protected on the Åland Islands.

In the old days, sailors – traders, pirates and other adventurers – enriched Finland with many new plant species. Some of them stowed away on boats, but others were brought on purpose. Four Garlic family species arrived this way and were planted around harbours as well as anchorages and beacons.

Before people learned how to preserve food in such a way that it didn’t lose its nutritive value, different kinds of deficiencies would trouble sailors. The most feared problem was scurvy which was the result of a lack of vitamin C, and which could kill you if it went untreated. Scurvy can however easily be cured and prevented by eating plants rich in vitamin C, and ramsons was one of their favourites. It is possible that the plant was brought to Finland by those most famous of sea-farers, the Vikings. In the Icelandic-Norwegian Edda poems the member of the Garlic family that is mentioned as having the power to repel evil spirits is perhaps none other than the Vikings’ ramsons. A belief in the power of Garlic family plants to protect the bearer from evil spirits and unknown diseases has persisted for millennia. Still today, strong-smelling garlic is believed to be as protective against the flu as it is against vampires. Its aroma is however part of the plant’s war against competitors. This property led ramsons to be planted in hop gardens as it repelled weeds. Cattle like the taste of ramsons but it flavours the milk, which was not seen to be any way desirable.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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