1 My niece, Sophie, enjoys foraging for ramps during this time of year. She has done a lot of research and is a very responsible forager. When foraging, always bring at least one person who knows exactly what is being foraged and never eat anything that cannot be accurately identified.
2 Ramps are grown in the eastern half of the United States, and parts of the midwest. They are only available for a few weeks from April to mid-May. Once trees leaf out, ramps lose their exposure to the sun and begin to wilt. It takes the rest of the season to store enough energy for the ramps to survive the following winter.
3 The wild ramps of the Northeast (Allium tricoccum) are native perennial plants that often grow along banks near streams and rivers, and in upland soils of hardwood forests.
4 Ramps favor sandy, moist soils, and can sometimes be found growing on the forest floor under beech, birch, or sugar maple trees.
5 Before setting out to forage, a few essentials to consider include: a bag or container for ramps, a pair of gardening gloves, something to drink - Sophie brought a Ball jar of herbal tea, and bug/tick repellant. Be sure to check yourself for ticks after foraging also.
6 For harvesting bulbs from a very prolific patch of ramps, it may be necessary to bring a trowel or a garden fork.
7 Ramps are sometimes called wild leeks, spring onions, wood leeks, or ramson. In French, they are called ail des bois.
8 The name "ramp" comes from the Old English word "ramson," which is a name given to the European bear leek and is very similar to the wild leeks in the US.
9 Leave smaller patches alone - only harvest from large, well-established patches of plants. It takes six to 18-months for ramps to germinate, and five to seven years for them to mature from seed.
10 Seek out the largest patches you can find. Early settlers often relied on these wild edibles for their restorative qualities. They are high in vitamins A and C.
11 Ramps are high in iron. One wild leek contains 10-percent of the recommended daily allowance of iron for women. They are also high in antioxidants.
12 Ramps are among the heirloom vegetables still growing wild in the Appalachian Mountains. Native American tribes hunted ramps, believing it to be a tonic that could protect them from many winter illnesses.
13 The demand for ramps has increased in recent years. To save the populations, and to ensure the ramps continue to grow strong for future seasons, harvest under 10-percent of any patch.
14 Ramps have one deadly, poisonous look-a-like, Lily-of-the-Valley. This is a ramp plant, but the leaves of both look nearly identical. The one true test to make certain it's a ramp, is to smell it and look for the strong garlic-onion scent. Ramp leaves are also very thin and almost translucent when held to the light.
15 Ramp leaves are broad, smooth, light green with deep purple to red or burgundy tints on the lower stems. They also have a seam up the middle of the leaf.
16 When picking ramp leaves, only take one leaf from the pair, leaving the other one as is to continue growing.
17 Ramps grow in numerous clumps of individualized plants. Sophie was careful to take only a few ramps from each location, so the ramp plants could continue to naturalize.
18 When digging the ramp bulb, gently use a trowel to get under the plant.
19 The ramp bulb is smallest during early spring, when the growing leaves absorb all the nutrients. Although these bulbs taste very flavorful, it's more sustainable to harvest only the leaves, so the bulbs can continue to grow for the next season.
20 Ramps have scallion-like bulbs. Though edible year round, the bulbs can toughen in summer. Both the bulb and the leaves are pungent tasting, especially when eaten raw, so use both sparingly.
21 Bulbs can also be harvested and replanted in other areas, so new populations could develop.
22 When growing ramps, look for an area that is wooded, with well-drained soil that is moist and rich in organic matter such as an abundance of decomposed leaf litter.
23 Transplanting bulbs can provide harvestable ramps within two to three years.
26 Ramp leaves can be kept in water in the refrigerator. They should remain un-wilted for up to one week.