- May 5, 2021
Among birdwatchers, the robin seems to top the list as the “harbinger of spring,” while for those folks who enjoy harvesting wild edible plants, it is the ramp that best signals that spring is upon us. So, what is a ramp and just what is all the hubbub about ramps, anyway? The scientific name is
Among birdwatchers, the robin seems to top the list as the “harbinger of spring,” while for those folks who enjoy harvesting wild edible plants, it is the ramp that best signals that spring is upon us. So, what is a ramp and just what is all the hubbub about ramps, anyway?
The scientific name is “Allium tricoccum,” and they are a flowering plant species of wild onion widespread across eastern Canada and the eastern United States. They are sometimes called wild leeks or spring onions, yet look somewhat like scallions, but they are smaller and more delicate, having one or two flat, broad leaves. Their taste is stronger than that of a domestic leek, somewhat like a mild onion flavor and they are more pungently garlicky than a scallion. The taste is mild in the beginning of their growing season, but becomes much stronger as the season progresses.
My introduction to these tasty and edible wild plants happened many years ago, when I was invited to join a group of “Old Timers” at a nearby hunting camp for their annual spring outing. I felt quite honored since I was in my 30’s while the group was well into their 70’s and 80’s! They gathered every spring at a streamside pavilion to prepare a warm lunch and partake of some of the nearby wild leeks. A soup pot containing a “secret blend” of diced potatoes, chicken stock and chopped ramps was placed over a wood fire, while a belly-warming bottle of something or other was passed around to toast being together for another season and enjoying the outdoors once more. Once the soup had come to a boil, it was served piping hot and topped off the annual occasion. It was my first exposure to ramps, but it would be far from the last time I would enjoy this tasty wild plant.
From March until mid-May, ramps can be found throughout Pennsylvania, and are most frequently found in moist woodsy settings, such as along streamsides or creek bottoms in our hardwood forests. They tend to grow in patches, sometimes covering more than several acres and are readily identified by their single or double leaves that are so thick it looks like a carpet covering the forest floor. If you find an area where they are growing, and obtain permission from the landowner to pick them, you can even transplant them to a location that will be more accessible for future harvesting in seasons to come.
There shelf life is rather short, keeping well for only 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator, yet can be chopped and frozen and thus extend their usefulness for up to a year. Caution – their odor is extremely strong, so when you keep them in the refrigerator, place them in a Ziploc bag, inside a Ziploc bag, inside another Ziploc bag! If you don’t, you run the risk of most things in the refrigerator taking on the aroma and taste of the wild leeks!
I recently saw ramps advertised on line for $18.95 for 25 plants. One can easily pick that many in the wild in 10 minutes, so if you multiply it out, in an hour you should easily pick more than $114.00 worth of wild ramps – not a bad savings for an hour of spending time in the outdoors harvesting some of Mother Nature’s bounty!
A very tasty and hearty soup is not the only way to enjoy using ramps. They can be roasted, grilled, sautéed and used raw in dishes like salads and made into pesto. They can be added to rice dishes, pasta dishes and omelets. You can use both the white bulb and the green leaves (the leaves are milder in flavor). For a really great taste of springtime, try scrambling together a few ramps, morel mushrooms and eggs – it is a delicious combination! Even Martha Stewart has recopies available for wild leeks. Or, just use your own imagination and use them as a substitute where you would normally incorporate onions, garlic or a combination thereof.
Gathering wild ramps is just one more great “excuse” to get outside, enjoy the fresh air and partake of the bounty we all have available to us in the Great Outdoors!