Friday 1 April 2011

Bear's Garlic

There is a ritual, practised here in the south of Germany each spring:  the harvesting of Baerlauch.  This is a plant which I was unfamiliar with before moving here, as it doesn't grow in North America.  In English it's know as Ramson, or Bear's Garlic, or Wood Garlic.  In Latin it's called Allium ursinum, and was believed to have been the first food that bears emerging from hibernation would eat.

Patches of its bright, spring-green leaves can be seen carpeting areas under trees, around ponds, along bicycle paths.  It grows in abundance here, though in other parts of Germany it's verboten to pick it, as there is very little of it left.  

Its leaves pierce through the dead ground cover of winter.

It looks very similar to other plants which are starting to grow at this time of the year, including Lilly of the Valley, which is toxic.  When rubbed, the leaves give off a pungent garlic or chive smell which helps in case of uncertainly.  

It's not uncommon to find people, especially older people, trudging into a patch, bag in hand, then bending down to pick some leaves. 

The leaves are popular in a soup, but the health benefits are only reaped when it's eaten raw.  A pesto is a popular way of eating it.  

It is supposed to be good for stomach ailments, as well as to keep ill-intentioned people away from you.  Don't know about Vampires, though.   

We chopped up the leaves, added olive oil, salt, put it on pasta and grated some Parmesan cheese on top.  It gives a wonderful flavour which is not as strong as garlic, but stronger than chives.

There is something incredibly satisfying about harvesting your own lunch.  Even if it's just a few green leaves.


  1. Oooh it grows in profusion around the country lanes near where I live, so much so that if you drive through them with your windows tightly shut you can still smell the tell tale garlic-like odour. I've never thought to use it as you've done here but just looking at the photos, it's making my mouth water! I think I might go out on a hunting forage this weekend!

    Kate :-)

  2. Bear food, yay! I bet it does have great medicinal properties if it is the first food the bears eat, always good to pay attention to those wise, wild creatures with so much to teach us! Lunch looks delicious..... No green here, we have a new batch of white over everything and more coming all day they say!

  3. We're very fond of this too. We usually call it wild garlic or ransoms. Sometimes I chop it and mix it with cream cheese to spread on oatcakes - delicious!

  4. Chomp, chomp, chomp, I can almost taste your pasta--with bear's garlic--meal ... I like simple food. Since we don't have that plant here I am thinking fondly of the fresh basil that I will be eating soon. Buy the plant, have fresh herbal seasoning for a lovely length of time ... can't wait!

  5. I hope the weather behaves for you, Kate, if you do decide to go foraging this weekend. What name do you know the plant by in your area?

    I so agree, Valerianna, there is so much that we can learn from the animals. I love the idea of them stumbling out of their dens, thin and wild, and seeking out these pungent leaves. Will winter ever end in your neck of the woods?! I wish you a strong and melting sun and enough of winter already.

    That would be wonderful with cream cheese on oatcakes, caravanartist! I haven't had a good oatcake in ages...When I was looking up this plant, I was amazed by how many different names it has in English.

    It was a beautifully simple, satisfying meal, Jan. I'm also looking forward to basil - I tried growing some in a window pot last year, but we don't get much direct sun so the leaves were a little peaked. Perhaps I'll try again this year.

  6. I discovered this plant when living in Haute-Savoie (French Alps) about 7 years ago. And I saw some here in Jura too. The flowers are beautiful too, little white stars...

  7. I can't wait for them to blossom - the flowers are beautiful, Ghislaine!