Wild Ramps: A (Fragile) Seasonal Delicacy
It’s wild ramp season here in New York state’s beautiful Hudson Valley. Time to start seeking out these elusive, delicious plants that come but once a year…
In my opinion, nothing rivals the thrill of finding something green and edible growing after a long, cold, gray winter. Especially something as yummy as a wild ramp!
They’re such beautiful plants. I think they look just like a cross between a Lily of the Valley and an onion. Strong but slender with green leaves and a beautiful purple stem and “seam” that runs partway up the leaves.
Perhaps you’re not terribly familiar with this lovely native plant? If so, allow me to introduce you. Their Latin name is allium tricoccum but they’re more commonly known as ramps, spring onions, ramsons, wild leeks, wild garlic, and, en Français, ail sauvage and ail des bois.
Ramps are perennials and grow in groups with their scallion-like bulbs firmly rooted beneath the soil. They favor sandy, moist soils and are often found near streams though you might also find them carpeting the forest floor where beech, birch, poplar and/or sugar maple trees are found.
If you spot some plants that you think fit this bill, you can test your identification by tearing off a leaf and giving it a sniff — it should smell strongly of onion or garlic.
If you are lucky enough to find some of these rare beauties, please be respectful. Due to rapidly growing demand as wild ramps have become trendy, there are increasing concerns that over-harvesting is taking a serious toll on wild populations.
You should harvest only from large, healthy beds and take, at most, a fraction (some things I’ve read suggest 15%, max) of the patch you’ve found. You can also cut just the leaves off the plants you harvest and leave the bulbs to grow back next year which is even more sustainable. If you want to know more, read this New York Times article on the topic. The good news is that these things are potent so you will not actually need to take very many plants (and again, you can also just cut the leaves off to leave the roots intact.)
Peel off the papery skin, use cold water to wash off the dirt, and use a sharp knife to remove the roots, leaving the entire bulb intact. Dry them carefully with a towel to remove all the water, then bundle them together to help retain moisture and store in the refrigerator.
Just when you thought things could not possibly get any more fun, it’s time to decide what to cook with them! There are a lot of good options. Although you can eat them raw, keep in mind that they are a bit intense — if you don’t like raw onions, scallions or garlic, you’re not going to like raw ramps. But their strong, garlicky flavor is enhanced by cooking – it becomes mellower and sweeter.
Ramps are excellent grilled, sautéed, roasted, pickled, pestoed and in risotto and eggs. If you’re not feeling super adventurous, one basic rule of thumb is that you can use ramps for anything you would normally use onions or garlic. If you don’t live in an area where ramps grow wild and you have not seen them in a store near you, you can order them directly from Earthly Delights.
- Wild Ramp & Lemon Risotto
- Wild Ramp & Parsley Pesto (great with grilled salmon!)
- Pickled Wild Ramps
- Spaghetti With Sautéed Ramps & Bread Crumbs from The Amateur Gourmet
- And a few more options from Simple Recipes