Hyacinthoides non-scripta, bluebell
It’s that exciting time of the year for any forager when all of the spring greens are beginning to show and probably the most commonly collected for even the beginner the wild ramson
( wild garlic Allium ursinum ) but with this comes a hazard which is a common sight in the countryside of most of the uk ,the bluebell.
Funnily enough I feel it’s one of the prettiest flowers we have and when sitting in the woodland which is carpeted with bluebells you can’t help but to be lifted by it’s truly majestic sight .
Most of us know that the bluebell is poisonous what we don’t know is that the plant Contains glycosides called scillarens which are a similar poison to the glycosides in foxgloves and is just as poisonous , luckily there are very few cases of poisoning from bluebells and my thinking behind this is that it’s because they don’t in any way resemble food they are just to pretty however it is a real danger for people with livestock as it appeals to them as it does our badgers who seem to love them , within livestock it is said to cause a swelling in the brain and eventually death and for a long time farmers would actively treat them as a pest to the point that they are now protected by the countryside act but in truth horses cow and indeed dogs have been recorded to ingest them resulting in digestive problems but rarely death and as the United Kingdom has over half of the worlds population conservation of this plant was deemed rightly so important .
I believe Ray Mears used the bulbs to make glue in one of his programs and this was common practise within book binding as it indeed does have a high tack quality but I can assure you it doesn’t dry strong and in fact didn’t dry at all when pulped with a mortar and pestle but did when chewed as there must be a chemical reaction going on there somewhere ( please do not chew the bulbs as previously stated they are poisonous ) and in Edwardian times the starch was extracted from the bulb and used in the clothes industry.
They are regarded as a dangerous foraged item is that they grow in the same habitat as the ramsons and at first growth before either plant has flowered they are difficult to tell apart I fact only the smell of the garlic in ramsons even the bulbs look similar in size but I’m going against most warnings as I think there would have to be something seriously wrong with them firstly they are covered in a sticky membrane and have no noticeable smell whereas the ramson has a waxy texture and is potently smelly and so I come to the conclusion that if poisoning were to occur it would have to come from people picking handfuls of leaves and inadvertently collecting them in error , and is exactly why time must be taken when picking any wild edible and collecting one item a time will In turn not only result in cleaner food stocks but potentially avoids any accidents.
“. I met her in the greenest dells
Where dew drops pearl the wood bluebells
The lost breeze kissed her bright blue eye
The bee kissed and went singing by”
Song of Secret Love
John Clare (1793 – 1864)