Ramsons flower buds lacto-fermentation

Ramsons flower buds lacto-fermentation Or, wild capers with Bear Garlic!

If you live near old woodland, especially towards the Western Atlantic coast of Britain, you will be easily able to find  ramsons flower buds and make a quick lacto-fermentation.  You can pick enough in a day to make this superb health-boosting condiment last almost all year!

A spring walk in woodlands can often reveal extensive carpets of this supreme wild garlic  (Allium ursinum). It is found growing in luscious dense swards from January onwards in many areas, through to late May.

You can read more about the medicinally valuable bulb garlic and wild garlic, in my garlic species profile, published last year.

This bite size video shows the plant enjoying woodland life in spring

You can harvest ramsons flower buds from early March carrying on through until mid April. To preserve by lacto-fermentation them, you can get to eat their powerhouse of vampire-killing medicine later on in the year, when the days are short, temperatures drop again, and various bugs and virus are doing the rounds.Image of ramsons flower buds

You will need:

A bag for harvesting (resealable is best for preserving freshness), a clean glass jar and lid, and the following ingredients:

A few hundred grams of ramsons flower buds.

A few grams of Sea salt.

Spring water (or dechlorinated tap water).

What is lacto-fermentation?

This simple preserving method has been employed for thousands of years, and it’s name comes from the type of bacteria working their magic in the fermentation process, which in this instance are various Lacto-Bacillus species of bacteria, and very similar to the ones found in milk and yoghurt.

These beneficial organisms are anaerobic (perishing in air and only growing in oxygen-starved environments) and thriving in reasonably acidic conditions. Fermentation happens in a couple of stages….firstly by wiping out the nasty spoiling bacteria that cant survive in salty conditions, then through encouragement of the good guys, who produce lactic acid from the lactose and other sugars present in the plant material.

The benefits of fermented foods are that they help your digestive system, enabling us to recover from yeast infections, give us a wider array of beneficial enzymes, and are supposed to have anti inflammatory activities. Oh and they taste fantastic!

When placing the your plant material in jars, you need to ensure a couple of things:

  1. Every 100 grams of material added requires about 2-5 grams of salt. Sea salt will be great. Try and avoid the man made table salt, with added iodine as this is thought to inhibit the fermentation process. The level of salt in the 2-5% per volume range can alter rates of fermentation; affect preservation longeivity, especially in warmer climates; together with the obvious impacts on flavour. It not only makes it impossible for many species of nasty spoiling microbes to survive, but also creates the perfect conditions for an array of beneficial Lacto-bacillus species.

  2. By packing the material in as much as you can, you will be excluding the air as much as possible. If you bruise the material and draw some moisture out, then less water will be needed to cover. After absolutely packing the jar, you need to make sure the material is covered and remains covered, which can easily be done by a small stone.

The jars need burping once fermentation has got going, which is noticeable by numerous bubbles appearing in the jar, and will be accompanied by an audible release of CO2 when opening the lid. Store in a warm dark environment. Fermentation is of course temperature dependent, but should be evident within 72 hours. 

How long you want them to ferment is up to you and your tastes. The longer you leave them then the more acidic the fermentation will taste. After 2-3 weeks you may want to place in a fridge if you have one, which will halt the ferment.

If you would like to learn more about the arts and crafts of the forager, then book on one of my  all year round foraging walks today!

More wild food recipes coming soon!

Garlic and wild garlic

Wild garlic, Bulb garlic

Allium ursinum, Allium sativum

Liliacea family

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Only comparatively recently have the British public embraced garlic, a plant renowned globally for its culinary uses.
Before the 1980’s it wasn’t used anything like it is today.

In this discussion I deal with the similar culinary and medicinal aspects of both our native wild garlic (A.ursinum), commonly known as ‘ramsons’, and the better known medicinal food, bulb-garlic (A.sativum).

Although you won’t come across the bulb-garlic in the wild in Britain, it can be easily grown and acquired most everywhere, and is truly medicinal food, so, warrants inclusion in any discussion on the medicinal prowess of Alliums.

If you are yet to discover the carpets of wild garlic in British woodlands in early spring or to grow any in your garden, where have you been? In any case, you will want to soon after reading this!

The garlic’s are some of the many thousands of lilly family members, grouped together in a large genus comprising no fewer than 700 species of bulbous and rhizomous biennials and perennials.

They are native to the northern hemisphere, and are believed to have originated in Asia. Bulb garlic is certainly one of the most ancient of medicinal herbs, documented in Babylonian times (c.3000 BC), and found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (c.1370-52 BC).

Botanical description to help identify garlic

Both the bulb-garlic and its wild version are naturally biennial, taking two years to complete their life cycle. Bulb garlic is usually propagated from the individual cloves of the bulbs and grown over one ‘season’. In this respect, we grow bulb garlic as an annual crop in the garden.

Bulb garlic’s leaves are thin lanceolate blades, of a dark green hue, although not as large as their relative, the leek (Allium porum), which has a blue-green look to the foliage. Unlike the onion (A.cepa), bulb-garlic’s leaves are not cylindrical or hollow.

All Allium leaves have parallel veins on either side of the mid-rib, ad-pressed somewhat and creating a creased-blade effect. Bulb garlic can grow up to 45 cm high, although during flowering, the terminal spike can reach up to 75 cm.

The wild garlic is a similarly pungent plant to the cultivated bulb-garlic, but looks very different in appearance. It begins to poke out its leaves from small underground bulbs during the first, warmer and longer days of January.

In some shady areas the large succulent leaf stalks on ramsons will be up to 25 cm in length, even before broadening out into their lanceolate leaf shape. The actual blade is approximately 6-7 cm wide and commonly around 25 cm long.

Care should be taken before harvesting that you have identified the plant correctly, as wild garlic has a couple of similar looking plants.

As with all edible wild plants, we get at least three opportunities to ensure we have the right plant. First is the point of harvesting, second is during preparation of the material, and third is before adding to the pot or pan.

Make sure you aren’t harvesting the poisonous look-a-likes known as lords and ladies (Arum maculatum), or Lily-of-the-valley. The former is far more common than the latter. Both can be found in woodland habitats.

Lords and ladies will grow amongst wild garlic, but has arrow shaped leaves with two rounded lobes at the base of the leaf, as well as having a net-veined leaf pattern, which helps easily distinguish it from ramsons when looking closely. Knowing and observing this will save you from disaster if soley listening to that often heard advice about “…if it smells like garlic, it is garlic”.

Anyone who has handled ramsons, will know that the garlic smell will easily transfer onto your fingers ,and therefore it is possible to hold a leaf of lords and ladies to your nose and smell garlic! Far better to learn how to identify each plant!

Lily-of-the-valley on the other hand, has leaves that are pretty much the same shape as wild garlic, although without the long, alost transparent leaf stalk, or the clump habit that ramsons does, plus it has a very different inflorescence. I’ve not actually come across ramsons and lily-of-the-valley together, but that’s not to say I won’t tomorrow!

Ramsons is indicative of ancient woodland, and easily found throughout March and April where it often creates extensive carpets, at least it does in woodland in the more western and southern areas of Britain. It can be found at altitudes up to 450 metres.

Ramsons is an ephemeral bulb, flowering before the woodland canopy trees are fully open in spring. Typically their flowers open and set seed from April through May, with seeds maturing late June to July. Its dormancy period is during our summer time and this is the best time to harvest the underground bulbs. These are relatively small, coloured a light creamy-white, approximately 5 cm long and 1 cm wide.

The flowers are a creamy-white colour, sat on solitary, terminal stems. The small, star-like individual flowers are borne into an overall spherical shape. The unripe green seeds swell in late spring. These are excellent eaten green and raw, being fleshy, crunchy, and exuding garlic aromas and tastes.

Parts used….. Raw cloves are best, as they maintain all the medicinal potency which otherwise rapidly diminishes with cooking. For medicinal use, the advice will always be to use raw cloves. Leaves of wild garlic can be picked as soon as found in the early spring.

Harvest….. Bulb-garlic: When leaves turn yellow around mid-late July, dependent on region. Wild garlic: leaves; Feb-April. Flower buds; March-April. Flowers: March-May. Green seeds; April-may. Black seeds; May-June. Bulbs; June-December

Key constituents.…. Garlic cloves: Volatile oil (containing alliin, which after crushing or chewing is enzymatically converted to alliciin, one of the major active components of garlic); germanium; selenium; saponins; mucilage; amino acids.

Actions…… Anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-fungal, anti-viral, expectorant (due in part to the mucilage), anti-platelet, anthelmintic, hypo-lipidaemic, vaso-dilatory.

Pharmacology and uses of garlic….. Much of the pharmacological activity of this plant stems from the many acrid, volatile sulphurous compounds. They are known to inhibit cholesterol synthesis as well as fatty acid and triglyceride synthesis.

Therefore, regular use leads to less chance of fatty deposits on artery walls, and with it, less chance to develop the serious condition – atherosclerosis.

Anti-oxidant effects have been shown in animals (in vivo) and the test tube (in vitro). Garlic enhances the activity of free radical scavenging enzymes such as superoxide dismutase, whilst protecting lipo-proteins from oxidation. Both these factors point to its use in treating conditions such as atherosclerosis.

Bulb garlic is known as ‘lashuna’ in ayervedic medicine, being used for whooping cough, heart trouble, flatulence, dyspepsia and colic.
Immuno-stimulatory actions have been recorded for high-molecular weight proteins extracted from Garlic.

These reportedly stimulate the activity and production of some of our immune system defence cells known as macrophages, lymphocytes, and natural killer cells.

Another long-standing and well documented traditional use of garlic is as an expectorant, to help clear coughs and colds. The saponins are almost always linked to this effect.

Garlic is also used in dietary control of diabetes and hypoglycaemia because of the resultant improvement in pancreatic abilities to produce insulin.

Ramsons also contain alliciin, so will therefore be anti-septic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory, just somewhat milder so. Throughout the countryside in southern parts of Britain and Ireland, wild garlic has been noted as good at defeating coughs, colds and other ailments.

“Nine diseases shiver before the garlic”, was a saying in Sligo, Ireland, only 100 years ago. This points to the faith people placed in the herb to ward off many illnesses. This belief may have been reinforced during the 1918 global flu pandemic, when people carried around a clove in their pocket for protection. Garlic kills vampires remember!

Alliums thin the blood and will interact with aspirin, and could increase bleeding, as well as interacting with HIV drugs such as protease inhibitors. It also interacts with ‘warfarin’, and may potentiate the drug as well as increasing the chances of internal bleeding. More than 5 grams of garlic per day when taking warfarin can reportedly lead to problems.

The fiery nature of garlic brings with it some contra-indications for use. Namely, conditions of chronic or acute stomach inflammation, and low thyroid activity.

The compound allicin is responsible for many effects as well as the much documented anti-microbial effects. Many harmful micro-organisms are destroyed by Garlics, including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Proteus and Salmonella spp.

The bulb is a very useful source of selenium, This particular element can assist the body in cleansing itself of toxic heavy metals, as well as protecting the cardio-vascular system in a numbe of ways.

As a food, wild garlic lends itself very well to a pesto, in place of bulb garlic. It also goes well in white sauces with fish, and as a salad leaf, chopped as you would chives.

Raw wild garlic can add an extra healthy punch to the salad bowl. To reduce the strong flavour, just blanch slightly, or steam for a minute or two.

The leaves, leaf stalks, flower stems, flower buds, green seeds, and bulbs, can all be preserved by lacto-fermentation (my favourite method of preserving food, using salt and water) and I rate these plant parts really highly when treated this way.

The bulbs will stink when preserved as a ferment, but after a few months their flavour mellows to something similar to roast garlic.

The flowers make an interesting garnish, especially if dried, when their flavour takes on something akin to cheese and onion crisps!

I have yet to make a dried garlic seed / peppercorn mix, but nevertheless, ideas such as this encapsulate the beauty of finding your own food plants and playing with different parts of plants we already know. Through these experiments, we can rediscover ancient flavours of the countryside by creating new recipes or adapting old ones.

More could be written, and more will be discovered, if you trawl the web. These medicinal food plants are quite simply, super!