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First wild food on the forager's calendar makes it onto the menu

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 15, 2013

Diane Brown, a qualified herbalist, forages for wild garlic. Totnes restaurant owner Matt Buzzo (above left) is serving the delicacy

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The hungry gap for wild food foragers is at its height in most parts of the Westcountry right now.

But restaurant owner and chef Matt Buzzo is lucky enough to have a frost free stream bank at the bottom of his garden where one of the great unsung delights of the wild food larder has made an early appearance – and is already on his restaurant menu.

Ramsons – or wild garlic – grows in profusion across the Westcountry and is one of the first leafy green plants to show itself when winter slowly turns to spring.

It takes almost no cooking when the leaves are young and tender as they are now but should be well washed to remove any grit. Lightly steamed and served with plenty of butter or olive oil it makes a great accompaniment to many dishes.

The plant's latin name is Allium ursinum. It is also called ramsons, jack-by-hedge and even, apparently 'bear's garlic' because bears eat it after hibernating to get their digestive tract back into gear – although not in Devon.

It is a perennial, hardy and fast-growing and tends to thrive in woods, often near or among patches of bluebells. First come the luscious and drooping leaves – which can form a dense canopy over the forest floor – then a burst of white flowers indicates the end of the growing season.

It is the leaves, rather than the bulbs, that are prized, although the bulbs are delicious, too, but very small and fiddly. The leaves and flowers make a great addition to salads or – as they have traditionally been used for centuries – as a garnish for cheese sandwiches.

At the New Walk Brasserie in Totnes Matt's chefs are serving it lightly boiled and buttered with a local fillet of trout wrapped in Parma ham. A true taste of spring to come.

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