Wild Garlic - The Health Benefits of Bear's Garlic!
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is a perennial plant belonging to the family of allium vegetables, closely related to garlic and onions. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North America and is valued for its distinctive garlic taste and health-promoting properties. It is also known by the names bear's garlic, ramsons, wild leek, and wood garlic. All parts of the plant are edible 1. Fresh leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be used as a garnish for salads. Wild garlic pesto is also very popular.
The sulfur compounds present in wild garlic are undoubtedly the most important components regarding its health benefits 2. Sulfur-containing compounds such as alliin and allicin, which are responsible for its antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, are found in wild garlic. Other important plant constituents and secondary plant substances include p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid, kaempferol, ursolic acid, quercetin, and carotenoids 3.
In folk medicine, bear garlic is used as an antimicrobial agent, digestive aid, and protection against cardiovascular diseases and respiratory problems. Bear garlic has often been used as a remedy for respiratory ailments such as colds with fever or bronchitis 4. It has also proven to be effective in supporting wound healing, chronic skin conditions, and acne when applied topically 5. Research confirms its health benefits against cancer, inflammation, and viruses 6. Its blood pressure-lowering benefit, as well as its effectiveness against arteriosclerosis and diarrhea, have also been observed 7.
However, it is important to note that bear's garlic (Bärlauch) can also have side effects, especially when consumed excessively. People who take blood-thinning medications or have a blood clotting disorder should avoid bear's garlic or consult a doctor before consuming it.
Risk of Confusing Bear's Garlic
When collecting bear's garlic, caution is advised as there is a risk of confusing it with other plants. It is important to always thoroughly wash and correctly identify bear's garlic before using it.
There are some plants that can be mistaken for bear's garlic, specifically the toxic lily of the valley. Here are some tips to distinguish bear's garlic from other plants:
- Bear's garlic has long, narrow leaves with a smooth surface and a typical garlic smell. Lily of the valley, on the other hand, has shorter, wider leaves with a slightly rough surface and no distinctive smell.
- The leaves of bear's garlic grow from a single stem, while lily of the valley has leaves in a rosette at the base.
- The leaves of bear's garlic are glossy and green, while the leaves of lily of the valley are dull and dark green.
Bear's Garlic against Parasites
A study from 2018 showed that bear's garlic extracts are rich in sulfur compounds. It was the first time that bear's garlic was shown to have the ability to kill parasites (Trypanosoma sp. and Leishmania sp.), likely by binding to and inactivating sulfur compounds that are essential for the survival of the parasites 8. In another study, scientists attribute the antimicrobial activities more to the polyphenol content 9.
Activity against Fungi
Results from another study show that some of the natural sulfur compounds have promising antifungal activities against Candida spp., and they deserve further attention as potential antimicrobial substances 10. Allicin and other sulfur-containing compounds induced these antifungal activities.
Garlic against Cancer
A study examined the effect of aqueous garlic extract on AGS gastric cancer cell lines. The results suggest that the plant extracts possess antitumor benefits that could be used in cancer therapy. 13.
Extracts from onion, leaf, and stem showed antioxidant activities, with the highest activity observed in the leaves 14. Antioxidants are compounds capable of neutralizing free radicals, thereby preventing or reducing damage to cells and tissues. They are important for protection against various diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases.
The content of flavonols, a subgroup of flavonoids, in the leaves is 11.81 mg/g on a dry weight basis 15. For comparison, the content in garlic cloves is 16.19 mg/kg on a dry weight basis. Quercetin and kaempferol are two such flavonoids found in numerous allium vegetables, including wild garlic 16. Both flavonoids are potent antioxidants that possess anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties. There is also evidence suggesting their neuroprotective benefits and their potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
Detox with Wild Garlic
An detoxifying benefit is also attributed to bear's garlic. 17 It is believed that the sulfur compounds contained in bear's garlic contribute to the removal of toxins from the body and support liver function. Bear's garlic is also an ingredient in dietary supplements available on the European market. These products are recommended as detoxifying and anti-atherogenic (directed against the development of atherosclerosis) medications 18.
A legend states that bears consume this plant after their hibernation to remove toxins from their bodies and regain their strength. For this reason, the Latin species name "Ursinum" comes from "ursus" (bear) 19.
Vegan Wild Garlic Pesto
Wild garlic pesto is a popular flavorful sauce made from fresh wild garlic and other healthy ingredients such as roasted pine nuts or other nuts, olive oil, spices, and lemon juice. The pesto can be used in various ways, such as a pasta sauce, spread on bread, or as a dip. There are also vegan versions of wild garlic pesto that are made without cheese.
- 100g fresh wild garlic
- 50g pine nuts
- 50g chopped almonds
- 80ml olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- Juice of 1/4 lemon
- Wash the wild garlic and pat it dry.
- Roast the pine nuts and almonds in a pan without oil until lightly browned.
- Roughly chop the wild garlic and put it in a blender together with the roasted nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
- Blend everything into a creamy mixture.
- Transfer the pesto into a sealable jar and store it in the refrigerator.
The vegan wild garlic pesto goes well with pasta, as a spread on bread, or as a dip for vegetables.