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Bear’s Garlic (Allium ursinum L.)


pharmaceuticalHerba Alii ursini
AlbanianQepë e arushës
AzeriYabanı sarımsaq
Јабаны сарымсаг
BelarusianЦыбуля мядзвежая, Чарамша, Мядзведжая цыбуля
Cybuĺia miadzvježaja, Čaramša, Miadzedžaja cybuĺia
BulgarianЛевурда, Лук мечи
Levurda, Luk mechi
野蔥 [yě cōng], 野葱 [yě cōng]
Ye cong
CroatianCrijemuž, Medvjeđi luk, Srijemuž
CzechMedvědí česnek, Česnek medvědí
DutchDaslook, Beerlook, Berelook, Borslook, Hondsknoflook, Wilde Knoflook, Woutknooploock
EnglishRamson, Wild garlic
EsperantoSovaĝa ajlo
FrenchAil sauvage, Ail des ours
GaelicCreamh, Garleag
GalicianAllo de urso
GermanBärlauch, Wilder Knoblauch, Waldknoblauch, Ramsen
GreekΆγριο σκόρδο
Agrio skordo
Hebrewשום הבר
שׁוּם הבַּר
Shum habar
ItalianErba orsina, Aglio orsino
LatvianLakši, Laksis, Mežloks
LithuanianMeškinis česnakas
NorwegianRamsløk, Ramslauk
PolishCzosnek niedźwiedzi
PortugueseAlho-porró, Alho-de-urso
Russian Дикий чеснок, Лук медвежий, Чеснок медвежий; Черемша
Dikij chesnok, Luk medvezhi, Chesnok medvezhi; Cheremsha (possibly A. ursinum or A. victorialis)
SerbianЦремош, Медвеђи лук, Сремуш
Cremoš, Medveđi luk, Sremuš
SlovakCesnak medvedí, Medvedí cesnak
SlovenianČemaž, Divji česen, Medvedji česen
SpanishAjo silvestre, Ajo de oso
TurkishYabanî sarımsak, Ayı sarımsağı
UkrainianЦибуля ведмежа
Tsybulya vedmezha
VietnameseTỏi gấu, Tỏi hoang, Hành gấu
Toi gau, Toi hoang, Hanh gau
Allium ursinum: Leaf or ramson
Fresh leaf or bear’s garlic
Used plant part

Young leaves, prefer­ably fresh. They should be harvested before the plants starts flowering. The bulb, being much smaller than that of garlic, is only rarely used.

Plant family

Alliaceae (onion family).

Sensory quality

Similar to garlic, but less strong and with a hint of chives.

Allium ursinum: Flowering ramson plants
Bear’s garlic at the start of the flowering period
Allium ursinum: Ramson flower
Flower of bear’s garlic
Main consti­tuents

Similar to garlic, bear’s garlic con­tains a large number of sulfur com­pounds: di­vinyl sulfide, dim­ethyl thio­sulfonate, methyl cystein sulf­oxide and the latter’s de­gra­da­tion products, methyl allyl thio­sulfonate and methanethiol.


Native to Western and Central Europe.

In the USA, ramp (Allium tri­coccum), a wild plant with more onion-like flavour, is used for similar purposes.


English ramson (Old English hramsan) is of unclear origin; cognates are found in several Germanic (e. g., Swedish ramslök and regional German Ramsen) and Slavonic languages (e. g., Serbian cremoš [цремош] and Russian cheremsha [черемша]). There are, however, a few possibly related words in other Indo–European tongues: Greek krommyon [κρόμμυον] and Sanskrit krimighna [कृमिघ्न] onion, and maybe Welsh craf garlic. A possible Proto-Indo–European root behind is KREM.

With the apparent exception of Northern Germanic, many names of bear’s garlic in European tongues translate to bear’s garlic, bear’s leek or bear’s onion. The following table gives an overview:

German Bärlauch bear’s leek Bär
Dutch beerlook bear’s garlic beer
Latin Allium ursinum bear’s garlic ursus
Italian erba orsina bear’s herb orso
Breton kignen-an-arzhed bear’s garlic arzhed
French ail des ours garlic of bears ours
Walloon A des oûsses garlic of bears oûrs
Spanishajo de oso garlic of bear oso
Albanian qepë e arushë onion of bears arush
Polish czosnek niedźwiedzi bear’s garlic niedźwiedź
Czech medvědí česnek bear’s garlic mědved
Slovak cesnak medvedi bear’s garlic medved
Russian chesnok medvezhij [чеснок медвежий] bear’s garlic medved [медведь]
Russian luk medvezhij [лук медвежий] bear’s onion medved [медведь]
Belarusian cybulia miadzvežaja [цыбуля мядзвежая] bear’s onion miadzvedź [мядзведзь]
Ukrainian tsybulya vedmezha [цибуля ведмежа] bear’s onion vedmid [ведмідь]
Bulgarian luk mechi [лук мечи] bear’s onion mechok [мечок]
Serbo-Croatian medvjeđi luk [медвеђи лук] bear’s onion medvjed [медвед]
Slovenian medvedji česen bear’s garlic medved
Farsi sirkhers [سیرخرس] bear's garlic khers [خرس]
Hungarian medvehagyma bear’s onion medve
Finnish karhunlaukka bear’s onion karhu
Estonian karulauk bear’s onion karu
Latvian lakši, laksis ? lācis
Lithuanian meškinis česnakas bear’s garlic meška

Allium ursinum: Flowering ramson
Flowering bear’s garlic
Allium ursinum: Bear’s garlic bearing unripe fruits
Bear’s garlic (wilting leaves and unripe fruits)
Romanian leurdă also belongs to that series, being com­posed of an element (a)le- garlic (from Latin allium) and a second element -urda related to Modern Romanian urs bear. Bulgarian levurda [левурда] was borrowed from Romanian.

I do not know what the associa­tions with bears are moti­vated by; allegedly, there is common belief that bears, after having ended their winter sleep in spring, first feed on bear’s garlic.

The name bear is common to all Germanic tongues (Old English bera, Old Norse bjǫrn); in contemporary languages, we have for example German Bär, Dutch beer or Swedish björn. The name is a euphemism originally signifying just the brown one, being derived from an Proto-Indo–European root BʰER brown; an alternative, yet less plausible, explanation relates bear to Greek ther [θήρ] animal and Latin ferus wild (Proto-Indo–European ǴʰWER- beast). It appears that the Germanic peoples avoided uttering the true name of the bear, fearing that the invocation of the name might make the dangerous animal appear.

A similar taboo concept lies behind Russian medved [медведь] and its Slavonic co­gnates with the literal meaning honey-eater. Russian med [мед] honey has relatives in almost any Indo–European language. In the Germanic languages, we find almost identical words for honey-wine: English mead (Old English meodu or medu), German Met and Icelandic mjöðr, all go back to Common Germanic MEDUZ. Non-Germanic examples include Latvian medus honey, Sanskrit madhu [मधु] sweet and Old Greek methy [μέθυ] (honey)­wine, which lies behind the name of a wine-coloured semi-precious stone, amethyst. All these cor­respond to an Proto-Indo–European root MEDʰU meaning sweet; honey (see also licorice and almond for more sweet words). Inter­estingly, this root also appears in Proto-Finno–Ugric as METE, hinting at an extremely early contact between these two language families.

Allium ursinum: Ramson in its natural habitat
Bear’s garlic growing in a forest
Allium ursinum: Bear’s garlic
Bear’s garlic, shortly before flower

Mead played a domi­nant rôle in an­cient Ger­manic culture. The beverage is mentioned in the very first song of the Poetic Edda, völuspá, as being drunk by the all-wise giant Mimir: dreccr miöð Mímir morgin hverian Mimir each morning his mead drinks. Ger­manic peoples of historical time were well known for their large consume of mead; Northern Ger­manic (Viking) kings had their throne typically in a large wooden mead-hall. Cf. also the multiple oc­curren­ces of mead in the Beowulf poem, and the name of Beowulf’s own hall, medu­seld mead-hall. The name Beowulf itself literally means bee-wolf and thus bear; the reference is that bears often steal honey from beehives.

The true Proto-Indo–European name of the bear is H₂R̥TḰOS, probably meaning destroyer; it appears in Latin ursus, Breton arzhed, Persian khers [خرس], Sanskrit riksha [ऋक्ष], and Greek arktos [ἄρκτος] bear; the latter term was also used to denote the constellation Great Bear (also known as the Great Dipper) and thus became a general term for north.

Allium ursinum: Ramson in early springtime
Bear’s garlic in early springtime
Allium ursinum: Ramson inflorescence
Flower head of bear’s garlic

Many langua­ges have a name for bear’s garlic signi­fying wild garlic: French ail sauvage, Greek agrio skordo [άγριο σκόρδο], Russian dikij chesnok [дикий чеснок], Hebrew shum habar [שום הבר] and Turkish yabanî sarımsak may serve as examples. Cf. also Chinese ye cong [野葱] wild onion. Another, less common, denomi­nation is garlic of the forest: Dutch wout­knoflook, yiddisch vald­knobl [װאַלדקנאָבל] and Spanish ajo silvestre. Quite con­fusingly, the Bulgarian name div chesun [див чесън] wild garlic does not mean bear’s garlic but chives.

See also garlic.

Selected Links

Plants for a Future: Plant Portrait of Allium ursinum, Wild Garlic ( Sorting Allium names ( Pflanzen des Capitulare de Villis: Bärlauch ( (Franz & Gisela Schmidt) Wildman Steve Brill: Ramps Voluspa: The Song of the Sybil ( Völuspá: The prediction of the prophetess ( Wöluspa: Der Seherin Ausspruch ( Rezept von Bärlauchpesto

Allium ursinum: Bear’s garlic
Bear’s garlic, flowering plants
Bear’s garlic, growing wild in fens and river woods of Central Europe, is much used in local cuisines, but since it cannot be cultivated, it has not gained any super­regional importance.

In spring, the leaves are collected and used raw to flavour spreads based on cottage cheese, soups and sauces. Dried leaves usually exhibit a very faint odour and should, if ever, used in liberal amounts. On the other side, they are better preserved by preparing a pesto-like sauce (see basil) or simply by freezing.

In Germany, and probably other parts of Central Europe, bear’s garlic has increased dramatically in popularity within the last few years; see also rocket on other herbs that have become popular lately. While bear’s garlic was formerly known only to a few in eat-wild-plants-communities, today hardly any of the haute-cuisine-chefs will miss the opportunity to create new recipes using this herb and offer them to his guest during the all-too-short season. Unfortunately, I find that many chefs mistreat bear’s garlic significantly and use way too high temperatures when they prepare their subtly flavoured crèmes, soups and pasta sauces. Ideally, bear’s garlic should not be boiled or simmered at all, but rather used raw, the fresh leaves just being mixed with the hot food and eaten immediately. Otherwise, most of its characteristic flavour is wasted and perfumes the kitchen air, not the food.

Poison: Convallaria majus, Colchicum autumnale
Two plants you should never confuse with bear’s garlic: left lily-of-the-valley, right autumn crocus

Since bear’s garlic has become so popular, many people have tried to collect the plant in the wild. Several cases of poisoning have been reported in recent years, as there are a few toxic plants with roughly similar leaves, particularly lily of the valley (Convallaria majus, Convallariaceae/Asparaginales) and autumn crocus (meadow saffron, naked ladies, Colchicum autumnale, Colchicaceae/Liliales). Both plants do not show even traces of garlic odour, and similarities are in the best case superficial, or even non-existent.

Lily of the valley contains cardioactive glycosides with physiological effects similar to digitalis, but their concentration in the leaves is comparatively small, and, as a consequence, live-threatening conditions due to poisoning occur but rarely. The situation is different with autumn crocus: All plant parts are rich in colchicine, a highly toxic alkaloid. Colchicine poisoning takes lethal course very often. Autumn crocus flowers have also been confused with saffron flowers by the inexperienced.

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