Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stinking onions

click photo to enlarge
If you go down to the woods today you'd better hold your nose. Why? Because it's the time of year when the "stinking onions" are in flower. Well, that's what I called them when I was a child, charging through the undergrowth in the damp woods of the Yorkshire Dales. Every May, following fast on the heels of the bluebells, and usually overlapping them, the luxuriant leaves of what I later came to know as ramsons (Allium ursinum), produce hosts of white, star-like flowers, which carpet the woodland floor, accompanied by the strong smell of onions.

At first the smell of ramsons is off-putting, but in time it grows on you. I've come to associate it with a time when the woods look their best, like this one above, near Knott End, Lancashire, and so I look forward to catching the pungent scent hanging on the air. The other name for this distinctive plant is, appropriately, "wild garlic", since it belongs to the Lily family which also includes the onion, garlic, chives and leeks. The flowers and leaves can be eaten as salad items, or as a garnish in sandwiches, whilst the bulb is best picked in the second half of the year, and has a mild flavour. Cooking any part of the plant significantly diminishes the flavour.

I took this photograph on an overcast day, just as the promised rain began to fall. The bright white of the ramsons, the azure of the bluebells, and the fresh green of the sycamore and beech leaves combined to make an attractive scene. Two of the thin, light-starved trees on either side of a long disused path in this small, overgrown wood, made a suitable middle-ground focus, and the yellow filtered light beyond differentiated the background.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen