While not technically a weed, the ramp is a wild onion (or leek, depending on who you are talking to) that grows in somewhat marshy, shaded forests in many of the northern and eastern reaches of the country. The ramp (Allium tricoccum) looks much like a lily, with broad, smooth, medium green leaves with sometimes a purple hue to the stalk. Once dug up, the white bulb is visible and looks not unlike a scallion, but with a radically different flavor. The ramp has strong associations with the folklore of the central Appalachian Mountains and much fascination and humor have been fixated on the plant’s extreme pungency. Like garlic, people say that ramp lovers, after feasting on their favorite wild onion, stink to high heaven. The mountain folk of Appalachia have long celebrated early spring with the arrival of the ramp, believing it to have great power as a tonic to ward off many ailments of winter.
Chefs and food enthusiasts alike make a lot of fuss over ramps. While they may not be nearly as rarefied as some of the more desirable wild mushrooms, ramps are a tremendous addition to a number of dishes. But watch it, they do tend to overpower. The flavor combines all of the best attributes of garlic, leeks and onions, and this particular wild food is exceedingly easy to locate (providing the ferns haven’t taken over the forest floor). However, when harvesting be aware not to take all the wild ramps you could find. Be sure to leave behind some (or better yet, only take the tops and leave the root behind to regenerate) to flower for years to come.
Here are a few links to great ramp recipes that put this pungent wild food to good use:
- Spaghetti with Ramps
- White Cheddar Grits with Grilled Ramps
- Sesame Ramp Sauce
- Potato and Ramp Soup
- Pickled Ramps
I have had everything from ramp pizza to lime and ramp sorbet. Do you have favorite ramp recipes you would like to share with other Care2 readers? Any ramp foraging tips?