Wild garlic – foraging remote beaches and wilderness coastlines

Staffa and the Treshnish Isles are beautiful wilderness islands most notable for having no roads, no cars, a lack of traffic wardens and no trees. And wild garlic, a woodland specialist – surely not?

Wild garlic or ramsons (Allium urisinum) is a native bulb common throughout the British Isles most happy in the damp semi-shade of broadleaf woodland and hedgerows. The fresh young leaves have a strong flavour that can be used raw in salads or added as a garnish to soups, pastas or risottos and used as a flavouring herb in cooking and, apart from being a great seasoning to your food, it’s one of the most powerful sources of vitamin C found in the woods.

Gardeners will say, once rooted, the plant spreads like a plague but, if its wind-blown seeds and aggressively dividing bulbs venture too far out into an open field its lush juicy leaves will be exposed to the sun, dry out, wither and die a lonely death. It is most happy sticking together in swathes of delicate carpet-like green spearheads in the damp of shade.

How can it be, on islands with only grassland exposed to the sun and wind, infertile soil so acidic there are no protective farmers’ ditches and hedgerows and not a tree in sight?

Smelling a rat

Surprisingly wild garlic can often be found in profusion in shady areas between rocks the size of cars fallen from the cliffs above where, seemingly not much else will grow.

The garlic flower is edible and makes for a good-looking garnish addition to many dishes and the leaves can be used raw in salads or as a pungent herb in pastas. I am not aware of any other coastline-foraged food containing as much flavour as ramsons – the juicy verdant leaf packing the powerful punch.

So there is no rat to be smelled. There are no rats on Staffa or Treshnish as they would eat the puffin eggs but that’s a topic for another blog.

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