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Wild Ramps: A (Fragile) Seasonal Delicacy

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!

A clump of wild leeks growing near a streambed by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

I fell in love with ramps right away, before I’d even dug the first plant out of the ground or had a chance to taste one.

A clump of wild leeks growing near a streambed by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

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.
A bunch of wild ramps, fresh from the ground by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog

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.

Pay dirt! A hillside of wild leeks by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

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.)

If you do choose to dig them up, you’ll want to use a trowel or hoe in order to unearth them without damaging the bulb.

Harvesting a wild ramp by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog

Keep the plants you’ve harvested cool and moist (you can just leave them in some dirt, if you like) while you pick.
A bunch of wild ramps, fresh from the ground by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog

Once you’ve finished your sustainable harvest, take them home and clean them up.

Bowl of wild ramps, fresh from the ground by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog

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.

Cleaning the ramps in the sink by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

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.

Cappellini with wild ramp pesto by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

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 By Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
Here are a few ramp recipes you might like:

Want even more recipes, photos, giveaways, and food-related inspiration? “Like” the Garden of Eating on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter or Pinterest.

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Eve Fox

Eve is the creator of The Garden of Eating, a blog about food--cooking it, eating it, and growing it. She has a legendary love of aprons and can often be found salivating over the fruits and veggies at one of the many farmers’ markets near her home in Woodstock, NY. Want even more recipes, photos, giveaways, and food-related inspiration? "Like" the Garden of Eating on Facebook, or follow Eve on Twitter or Pinterest.

37 comments

+ add your own
3:30AM PDT on May 27, 2013

wonder how it will grow in sunny Singapore..

5:19AM PDT on May 16, 2013

loving these recipes

4:54AM PDT on May 13, 2013

Never heard of these in the UK. We do have Spring Onions, but they are not the same as your ramps.

12:40AM PDT on Apr 23, 2013

Thank you.

5:37AM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

Wonderful!

12:19PM PDT on Apr 20, 2013

great

10:28AM PDT on Apr 19, 2013

Ramps do grow in MI, but it is possible that they have been exterminated where you are. I think it is irresponsible to advise people to go ramp collecting, especially with a guide line of 15% of a bed! They are imperiled in many places due to overcollecting. So, unless you have your own bit of woods or field or garden with them, please leave them in the ground!

4:00AM PDT on Apr 19, 2013

Thank you --- as much as I'm outside I don't believe I've ever seen ramps --- but, maybe they don't grow in MI, will have to watch for them! Thanks for article!

11:18PM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

Wild ramps? That sounds like what you encounter when you try to get on or off the freeways during heavy traffic here in the Portland metro area. These sound much safer.

8:21PM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

Great recipes! Beautiful photography :-)

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