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Wild Garlic and Goosegrass

Updated on August 8, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

The pungent smell of the wild garlic also referred to as Ramsons is unmistakable .The aroma of garlic fills the air as you walk by the places they dwell which, in the main, is deciduous woodland before the foliage appears on the trees.

The plant has long been utilised by man for culinary and medicinal purposes as we shall discover later in the text. This pungent smell is the best indicator of identification from plants with similar looking foliage such as the poisonous lily of the valley or even the foliage of arum which do not possess this smell of garlic.

Wild Garlic Covering a Woodland Floor


Basic Biology of Wild Garlic

Woodland floors can be entirely carpeted with wild garlic during spring to the exclusion of all other species. Two to three bright green leaves arise straight from the bulb. Each on is broadly eliptical ending in a point at the tip. They can be up to 10 inches high.

The white flowers are formed in small umbels the whole having a somewhat globular shape consisting of up to 25 flowers. The individual flowers are 1.2-2cm wide the petals spreading and star shaped they appear at the top of long stems. Each flower is enclosed in two papery sheaths before they open out.

The flowers are succeeded by small capsules that split in to 3 parts to release the numerous black seeds when they are ripe.

New young foliage


Medicinal and Culinary Uses of Wild Garlic.

The juice of the bulbs which are about 1cm wide are elongated. It was used to treat the symptoms of rheumatic pain and as a slimming agent. For culinary purposes they may used in the same manner as the cultivated garlic the taste of wild garlic being rearded as being milder than that of the former. For both culinary and medicinal uses it is recommended that the bulbs are dug up in Autumn or early spring { with the landowners permission}.

Four to six chopped garlic bulbs can be placed in to a container and covered with honey then left to stand overnight. The resulting mixture can then be given in table spoon doses to relieve the symptoms of colds and catarrh. Kept refrigerated the mixture will keep for many weeks. This mixture should not be given to children under the age of two years.

Wild garlic has been employed medicinally to treat a variety of ailments which includes cold sores ,cramp,high cholesterol,infections, sore throats and ear ache. Garlic is well known for its antiseptic qualities and for its ability to strengthen the immune system which helps the body to fight infections.

The leaves may be chopped and used in salads, personally I find the taste of the foliage in its raw state a little over powering and I tend to employ them as an ingredient of omelettes.

The species name of ursinum derives from a Russian word meaning a bear. Some authorities believe this alludes to the shape of the foliage which was said to have a superficial resemblance to that of a bears ear. Others say it alludes to the fact that bears love to eat the bulbs.

Goose Grass/ Cleavers

 Goosegrass, Galium aparine, also known as cleavers and some quaint country tiltes such as sticky willy. The seedlings of this annual plant are very quick to repspond to longer day light hours and even in the north of England they germinate as early as late January and early February. 

Seedlings Establishing

The large sprawling plant begins its life as tiny seedlings
The large sprawling plant begins its life as tiny seedlings | Source

Basic Biology of Goosegrass

These seedlings grow quickly and a mature plant can attain the "height" of over 2m {over 6 feet} as it sprawls over other vegetation for support often using hawthorn or bramble to aid in its search for light. This common plant is found in a variety of habitat wherever hedgerows or bramble occur and they can become a persistent weed in a garden .

The entire plant is covered with hooked hairs which has a velcro type texture. The plants alternative name of cleavers allude to these hairs cleave being an old English word for cling, as does the species name of aparine which derives from Latin and means to seize, alluding to the way the hooks help the plant to cling to fur and clothing. Goosegrass derives from the fact that geese and especially goslings feed on this plant with relish.

The foliage is produced in whorls {rings} around the stem at intervals along its length. The leaves are in whorls of four to six and are narrow and elliptical sharpley pointed at their tips.

The flowers which are tiny and white { just 2mm wide} have four petals which occur in loose clusters and appear from May until August. These are succeeded by small paired fruits also covered in hooks as many a walker and dog owner will testify. Indeed dog owners need to be wary of these fruits becoming caught up between the skin of the animal and its fur. Apart from irritating the skin the dog may cause further problems by viciously scratching in an attempt to rid itself of its unwanted passenger.

New growth

The seedlings above soon attain the height of these specimens.
The seedlings above soon attain the height of these specimens. | Source

Medicinal and Culinary Purposes.

 Goose grass is another very common species that has long been associated with herbal medicine and culinary preparations. Over the years I have used large quantities of the plant mainly as an ingredient of spring soups along with that other stalwart of the countryside the stinging nettle. A handful of each being the main components along with other vegetables such as leeks or barley depending on ones personal taste. Both goosegrass and nettles are good blood purifiers and act as a tonic after the chills of winter. Both the nettles sting and the hooks of goosegrass are destroyed during the cooking process.

Medicinally goosegrass has been used to treat the symptoms of ailments which include  boils, eczema, sore throats  and kidney stones. It is mainly the juice extracted from the plant which may be preserved with alcohol.  However, the fresh herb may be crushed and used as a poultice to cover sores and blisters. The dried herb may be used in infusions as a diuretic.

Both wild garlic and the goosegrass are beneficial to the human race both as food and medicine. As always any one inclined to try these herbs for the first time try a little to test your tolerance, and always positively identify the species before consumption.


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    • profile image

      j homewood 5 years ago

      my dog enjoys eating sticky willy too

    • profile image

      Sue Kingsbauer 5 years ago

      Enjoying the first growth of goose grass now.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi, I am sure if you like garlic you will enjoy this plant. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. Best wishes to you.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I would love to try wild garlic, which I am sure has a wonderful smell and flavor. I like the smell of garlic, believe it or not.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      SilverGenes I do not know if they grow in your part of the world hope they do. Glad you enjoyed it and your comments, as always, are appreciated. best wishes to you.

      Eiddwen Thank you too for taking the time to comment. You are so right about never being to old to learn I still learn something new every day about nature and her wonders. Best wishes to you.

      Hi B, thank you , best wishes to you. Nice to see you here.

    • Joy56 profile image

      Joy56 6 years ago

      Very informative a pleasure to read as alwya

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      I love all hubs on wildlife, nature etc and this one was a treat D. A. L. We are never too old to learn are we ??

      Take care


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      SilverGenes 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed this article and learning about goosegrass. This plant is new to me. Nor have I ever seen (or smelled) wild garlic in the woods. Now I need to do some research to see where it grows in Canada. :)