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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Transatlantic‹  ›Heimat‹  ›EN‹   –  13.04.2012

Bears like to do it

Come springtime, before the trees in the woods leaf out, the glorious smell of garlic abounds in the wetlands and woods of southern Germany. Bärlauch is a local delicacy and used creatively in the springtime cuisine – but is practically unknown in the States.

Bärlauch or ramsons growing in the woodsWhen the first warm spring days are upon us, a walk in the woods acquires a whole new meaning: it’s time to go foraging for Bärlauch! Allium ursinum - also known as wild garlic, wood garlic, bear leek, and bear's garlic - is called ramsons in English and is a wild relative of the onion family native to Europe and Asia. So perhaps the plant never made it to the New World? What a loss!

Ramsons grows in deciduous woodlands with moist soils where it flowers in April and May, before the tree leaves emerge. That’s when their lush carpet fills the air with the characteristic garlic-like scent... simply irresistible. Apparently, bears love to eat the fresh spring greens after awaking from their hibernation since the leaves help to clean their stomach, intestines and blood. Hence the German name, Bärlauch (bear’s leek) and the botanical reference to bears (ursinum).

ramsons botanical tableBut not only bears go crazy for those tender, garlicky shoots. In Germany, April and May are devoted to ramsons, where they show up on menus in all kinds of culinary contexts: there’s Bärlauch in cheese and quark, in herbed butters and sauces, baked into breads or turned into pesto. You can spice up your salads or scrambled eggs or simply enjoy it as is, sautéed lightly as a fragrant wild green. Only your own imagination is the limit when it comes to experimenting with ramsons in the kitchen!

One note of caution, my friend, before you go out foraging in the garlic-scented woods: ramsons leaves can be mistaken for lily of the valley or also those of Colchicum autumnale, both poisonous individuals. Side by side, I don’t find that to be an issue – but when one of those Doppelgängers is buried amid a sea of ramsons, the differences could be easily overlooked.

Here’s a good source for how to keep them apart (sorry, German only, but with good pics).

Nevertheless, this little problem hasn’t kept me from enjoying Bärlauch season so far!

For some culinary inspiration, check here:

Wild Food Guide

Sacred Earth

The Epicurean Table