What Are Ramsons or Barlauch?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Ramson leaves and chopped on a cutting board

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This wild garlic goes by a handful of names—ramsons, or "bärlauch" in German, wild garlic, bear's garlic. It's a relative of chives that grows wild. With an aroma—and taste—that's a cross between garlic and onion, they're hard to miss when you come across them. Popular for sauteeing, in soups, and in stir-fries, ramsons are a close cousin to ramps, which grow wild in North American in the spring, have a similar taste, and are prized by chefs for their versatility, taste, and seasonality.

What Are Ramsons?

Ramsons ((Allium ursinum) are one of the first spring greens, and the Latin and German names for it refer to brown bears who liked to dig up the plant and eat it in the spring. They go by a multitude of names: buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic or bear's garlic. Evidence of people and livestock eating this bulbous perennial in Denmark and Switzerland has been found dating back to 9000 BCE.

The harvest usually starts in March and ends when the plant starts to bloom, April through June.

How to Cook With Ramsons

The use of ramsons has reemerged in recent years due to an interest in traditional foods. The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw (salads) or cooked (think soups-- Bärlauch cream soup and pesto are common dishes in Germany), and you can also eat the underground bulbs, too, which can be used immediately and cooked with, or preserved by pickling them.

What Do They Taste Like?

Ramsons smell strongly of garlic and it is hard to miss it when biking or walking through a patch of this plant in the parks in Germany. The taste is a cross between onions and garlic. Visually, it can be mistaken for Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis or "Maiglöckchen," which are poisonous but have a scent used in many perfumes—one that's definitely not of garlic or onions.

Ramsons Recipes

You can use them much the same way you might use ramps, which is to say they can be sauteed with other vegetables, added to pasta, cooked with potatoes in a soup, and so forth. Substitutions for ramsons could be a mix of any or all: garlic, chives, and onion or spring onion. Because the wide, triangular leaves are used, some spinach cut into ribbons (chiffonade) would help the final visual product. Tuck them into omelets, add them to tacos,

You can use ramsons in these recipes that call for ramps.

Where to Buy Ramsons

These are grown wild, so they are the kind of food that you can forage for if you happen to be lucky enough. If you live in Europe it's not uncommon to encounter them at open-air food markets.

Storage

This ingredient is delicate and so it's best to store ramsons unwashed, in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel that touches the entire plant, and then placed in a plastic bag that you don't seal. They may keep up to a week that way. If their roots are still intact, is to put them, unwashed, in a small jar with enough cold water to cover the roots, in your fridge.

You can also follow the general procedure outlined for freezing ramps, or mix this ingredient into a flavored compound butter, which will keep in the fridge or in the freezer, wrapped in wax paper, for much longer.

Ramsons vs. Ramps

In North America, ramps (Allium tricoccum) are a close match to European ramsons. Ramps grow wild and are commonly found in Appalachian cuisine and in the province of Quebec, Canada. Also known as spring onion, ramson, wild leek, and ail des bois.

what are ramsons
The Spruce Eats / Michela Buttignol 

Nutrition and Benefits

In folk medicine, ramsons are seen as cleaning the stomach, intestine, and blood.