Flowering time (month)
Ornamental or utility value
semi-shady to shady
Bear’s garlic (Allium ursinum), also called forest garlic, is a wild vegetable native to Europe that grows in damp, semi-shady forests, but also along streams and meadows. Wild garlic belongs to the Alliaceae family and is related to vegetables such as garlic and onions. The care of bear’s garlic in the garden is a matter of taste in the truest sense of the word: in the past, the plant was sometimes perceived as a plague and therefore torn out over a large area. Even today, many people find the smell of garlic and sulphur that the plant develops before and after flowering unpleasant. Possibly bear’s garlic was banished because of this smell for a long time from garden and kitchen. In the meantime, however, the healthy bulbous plant is experiencing a renaissance, not least because of its healing properties. Already the Romans consumed bear’s garlic as “Herba salutaris”, health herb. Before them the Celts and Teutons also trusted in the healing powers of the herb. They also gave him his name: It was said that after hibernation, bears first looked for the juicy leaves of the bear’s garlic to absorb urgently needed nutrients.
The perennial herbaceous plant grows to 20 to 50 centimeters. From a very slender onion grows an almost triangular stem, which carries about three to four leaves.
The sword-shaped, aromatic-scented leaves are up to five centimeters wide and have a lanceolate stalk. Above they are of darker green than on the underside. The leaves turn yellow after two to three months and already move in in summer. If you want to use the leaves in the kitchen, you should harvest them before flowering. In general, the older the leaves, the more intense the smell, and the drier the location, the sharper the taste. Caution: The poisonous leaves of lily of the valley and autumn timeless look very similar to those of bear’s garlic! But bear’s garlic has a different leaf shoot and smells intensely of garlic. Harvest only moderately on freshly planted specimens in the first three to four years. The German Society for Nature Conservation (NABU) recommends that only one leaf be harvested per plant so that it can collect sufficient energy reserves for new shoots.
The pure white flowers open in April/May and flower until June. The flower stems are triangular and produce white false umbels with small flowers at the end of April or in May. A sham umbel consists of up to 20 star-shaped flowers with a diameter of up to about 20 millimetres. Around June the seeds and plants die off above Soil. Only in the following year do they sprout again.
Location and soil
For your self-cultivated bear’s garlic you should create about the same conditions as at the natural site: As a forest plant, bear’s garlic loves semi-shady locations and a humus soil. In contrast to most other leek species, bear’s garlic also tolerates humid soils, but they should be well permeable. He likes warmth, but not direct sunlight. A mulch layer of autumn leaves or ripe compost is also good for the plant. If the soil is quite acidic, it should be whitewashed from time to time.
Planting and care
Wild garlic can be cultivated very well in your own garden. However, since it can spread out strongly, a well-defined bed with a root barrier is recommended. The own sowing is possible, but very difficult, because bear’s garlic can have a very long germ duration. Alternatively, in spring you can buy bear’s garlic plants in well-stocked garden centres and plant them directly into the soil. The planting depth should be about ten centimeters, the planting distance about 15 centimeters. It is also possible to plant bulbs in autumn, but this only works if you have very fresh plants, as the slender bulbs dry out very quickly in the air. The bear’s garlic does not need any special care. The plants should be watered a little during dry periods and the beds should be mulched thinly with leaves in autumn to increase the humus content of the soil.
Use in the garden
Wild garlic is best suited for planting trees and shrubs in natural gardens. However, it is only visible above Soil for a relatively short time and is therefore not very decorative. To avoid bare patches in the garden from as early as June, plant it in combination with Astilben, Funkien and other shady shrubs and ferns to close the gaps.
After a few years at the same location, the cold seed bucket usually sows itself very strongly by self sowing. By this Aussamen and the formation of daughter-onions, relatively big eyries can develop. You can find lush bear’s garlic fields in the wild in the floodplain forests of rivers and streams. The easiest way to reproduce the plants is to cut a piece out of a bear’s garlic carpet after flowering and plant it elsewhere.
Diseases and pests
As a leek plant, bear’s garlic is very resistant to diseases and pests. Sometimes the bear’s garlic infests rust fungi. Occasionally also voles find taste at the onions.
Wild garlic as a medicinal plant
Wild garlic contains allicin, the same substance as garlic. This organic sulphur compound causes the typical smell and taste. Wild garlic is rich in minerals and vitamins such as magnesium, iron and manganese. The plant can therefore have a positive effect on cholesterol levels and prevent high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Wild garlic has an antibiotic and detoxifying effect, stimulates the appetite and promotes digestion.
Use in the kitchen
The green leaves of the bear’s garlic can be used in the kitchen like garlic, onions, chives and leeks. In terms of taste, bear’s garlic is hotter and more aromatic than garlic, but when heated it loses its sharpness and aroma and does not cause such a strong “flag” as garlic. Freshly finely chopped it is suitable as bread topping and for seasoning salads, pasta and meat dishes. Bear’s garlic can also be used as a seasoning ingredient for herb butter, sauces and vegetable dishes. The wild vegetables should be freshly prepared, as they can only be kept for a short time due to their high water content. Alternatively, you can dry the wild garlic, for example in the attic or in the oven. However, it loses a lot of its aroma. You can also make a pesto for preservation.
Caution when collecting
Attention: Again and again wild growing bear’s garlic is confused with lily of the valley or autumn timeless – with fatal consequences, because both plants are extremely poisonous. The most important distinguishing feature: the smell. While the leaves of the bear’s garlic exude a typical garlic smell when rubbed between the fingers, the leaves of lily of the valley and the autumn timothy are odourless. So only those who can identify bear’s garlic reliably should collect. In addition to the danger of confusion, there is the possibility of catching a fox tapeworm. You are on the safe side if you grow wild garlic in your own garden. Anyone who feels unwell after eating bear’s garlic or notices signs of poisoning such as nausea and diarrhoea should consult a doctor immediately.
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