Foraging in Caithness

It appeared to be a welcome opportunity at first, but after nine months of being employed by the DHSS Department of Work and Pensions, I am slipping into the slovenly habit of sleeping late.

Today I made an especial effort of rising at 0600 hrs. Amazingly, Caithness is experiencing a third consequative day of unbroken sunshine, and I went for a brisk walk up Thurso River.


Thinking of the pasty-faced anarchist, Francis Sedgemore’s recent serendipitous foraging find, I caught a whiff of garlic. And it was wild garlic! Just as Francis was surprised to find brambles in late July, I had assumed that this had died down and gone to seed, but here a clump was holding onto life. Greedily I did take some. I assume it was not lily of the valley, and I am not about to collapse with painful heart stoppage; as Horse Whisperer author, Nicholas Evans did when eating the wrong mushrooms.

More closely related to chives (Allium schoenoprasum) than cultivated garlic (Allium sativum, wild garlic (Allium ursinum), as with any herbal remedy it has numerous colloquially names. Known sometimes as a bear garlic, it is thought to be a first stop for brown bears emerging from hibernation because of its antitoxicant properties. Known also as buckrams or ramsons, the ‘rams’ component derives from Germanic root ‘hroms’ (discussed here in the Enlightment’s language of science), and appears to be the bases of surname and placenames ‘rams-‘. The word rank also shares an etymology, referring to the bitter taste of diary products from livestock which has eaten wild garlic.

As I neither lactate nor am likely to smell any metabolites on my urine (I cannot smell those of asparagus on my, or anyone else’s urine), I have no qualms about eating it. The leaves were a bit too scraggily for concerting cooking, such as this delicious sounding wild garlic pesto, but I intend to put some in a late breakfast of Lahuha/Sephardic (yeast, non-egg) pancakes and raid the salad patch tonight.

I will return later to see if I can scavange any roots to transplant in my garden. Once established, they grow like triffids and I will keep a close eye as just one of two lambs lug plants brought up from a friend’s garden in Glasgow some 15 years ago is now found in spots across our garden.


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