Ramsons

(Allium ursinum) Ramsons is an interesting word. Its ultimate origin was the Greek kromon, but more relevant is the OE hrama, whose plural was hramaton. That plural noun was later on, when its derivation was forgotten, taken as a singular. So a new plural was formed with 's', so giving us a rarity of a double plural. The word occurs in several place-names, notably Ramsey in Essex, and in Huntingdonshire - ramsons valley.

It is a British native, and our only broad-leaved garlic, widespread and locally frequent in damp woods, and in the north sometimes in open situations, where their presence in pastures may lead to difficulties, for they spoil the taste of butter if cows eat them. Children in Yorkshire used to be paid to "knock down ramps", to save the butter (Hartley & Ingilby). The white flowers show from April to June. In the ecclesiastical calendar, it is appropriated to St Alphege, whose feast day is 19 April (Geldart). The church using ramsons as decoration must have overwhelmed its congregation with the smell.

Cloves of ramsons, or wild garlic as it is often known, used to be planted in Ireland on thatch over the door, for good luck (Opie & Tatem) in general, but in particular to ward off fairy influences (Mooney), which is one of true garlic's functions. Of the plant's medicinal virtues, an old west of England proverb gives a summary:

Eate leekes in Lide, and ramsins in May, And all the yeare after Physitians may play" (Aubrey. 1686).

"Lide" is March. Of the rhyme Gerard says "the leaves may very well be eaten in Aprill and May with butter, of such as are of a strong constitution, and laboring men", but the only real good he had to say of it was that the distilled water "breaketh the stone, and driveth it forth", a usage that was well-known in the Highlands, too. But there is more to ramsons than that, for, like real garlic, it is prescribed by herbalists for arteriosclerosis (the fresh leaves, or a tea made from the dried leaves), hypertension, diarrhoea and distension (Fluck), the last-mentioned being well-known in medieval times, for the Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai has "for a swelling of the stomach. Take goats' whey, and pound the herb called ramsons, mixing together and straining. Let it be your only drink for three days". Pennant found on the Isle of Arran that "an infusion of Ramsons ... in brandy is esteemed a good remedy for the gravel".

Ranunculus acris (Meadow Buttercup) > BUTTERCUP

Ranunculus bulbosus (Bulbous Buttercup) > BUTTERCUP

Ranunculus ficaria > LESSER CELANDINE

Ranunculus flammula (Lesser Spearwort) > SPEARWORT

Ranunculus lingua (Greater Spearwort) > SPEARWORT

Ranunculus repens (Creeping Buttercup) > BUTTERCUP

Ranunculus scleratus > CELERY-LEAVED BUTTERCUP

Raphanus raphanistrum > WILD RADISH Raphanus sativus > GARDEN RADISH

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