Wild Garlic

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

wild garlic is a name which should apply to plants of true garlic, Allium sativum, growing in the wild; but in practice it is used of other plants in the genus which do grow in the wild and do possess at least some garlic-like characteristics.

In Britain the most important species to which the name applies is A. ursinum, also known as ‘bear’s garlic’ (a name echoed in other languages) and more fittingly as ramsons. This name comes from hramsan, the plural of the Old English hramsa; so, as Geoffrey Grigson (1955) points out, ramsons is a double plural. Yet other names include badger’s garlic, devil’s garlic (cf. the Swiss Teufelsknoblauch), gypsy’s onions (cf. the German Zigeuner Knoblauch), and a quartet of hostile names from Somerset: snake’s food, stinking Jenny, stinking lilies, and onion stinkers.