Harvesting Wild Ramps ~ The Garden of Eating - a sinfully good blog about food

Friday, April 22, 2011

Harvesting Wild Ramps

I've been eagerly scanning the roadsides and woods the last few weeks in the hopes of spotting some of these elusive wild ramps everyone's been raving about. After several frustratingly fruitless walks in the woods and along stream beds, I finally hit pay dirt the other afternoon - a whole hillside!
Pay dirt! A hillside of wild leeks by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

Maybe it was the build up from all those weeks of seeking or the thrill of finding something green and edible growing after this endless, snowy winter, but finding them was a moment of pure excitement and elation.
A clump of wild leeks growing near a streambed by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

I fell in love 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, like me, you're not terribly familiar with this lovely native plant. 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/garlic.
A bunch of wild ramps, fresh from the ground by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog

If you are lucky enough to find some, please be respectful. Due to the fact that the demand for these wild plants has been ramping up (sorry, I couldn't help myself) in recent years, there are growing concerns about overharvesting. If you want to know more, read this recent New York Times article on the topic. The good news is that these things are potent so a small amount goes a long way.

Harvest only from large, healthy beds and take, at most, a fraction (5% max) of the patch you've found. Or, you can simply snip the greens off a small selection of the plants to avoid damaging the population.

I strongly suggest starting your own ramp patch(es) if you have appropriate land, as well. We have both transplanted a small amount of plants to our property and also purchased established plants and seeds from the good folks at the Ramp Farm. It will probably take a number of years before you have enough to harvest but keep on spreading those seeds and you'll be there before you know it!

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.

Based on my research and on my own experiments, I'm happy to report that ramps are excellent grilled, sautéed, roasted, pickled and in pesto. 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.
Making pesto with the ramps by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

I will be posting a recipe for the delicious wild ramp and parsley pesto we made the other night just as soon as I can and I also have plans to make a wild ramp and lemon risotto and will keep you posted on that.
Cappellini with wild ramp pesto by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

In the meantime, I will leave you with the delicious-looking ramp recipes below. Also, 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 from Earthly Delights.

You might like:
Some Other Wild Ramp Recipes:


Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Nice tutorial! Sadly, no ramps where I live in NorCal, but we do have three-corned leeks, which are almost as good...

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Great tutorial! Sadly, no ramps where I live in NorCal, but at least we have three-corned leeks, which are similar, if not quite as good.

Eve Fox said...

Thank you! I am a big fan of your blog. I wish I'd known about these three-corned leeks you mention before we left Northern Cali last summer to move back east. Ah well...

3rensho said...

That's what we call Bärlauch here in Switzerland. Great stuff and you can pick it by the ton in the spring. You have to pick it in forested areas to be safe. There is a similar looking plant, Herbstzeitlose, that is quite poisonous but only grows in sunny meadows and on forest edges. Sometimes city slickers mix them up and end up dead. Great tutorial. Thanks

Ann V said...

Thanks for underscoring the need for moderation of harvesting these lovely wild plants. It is so often the case with wild foods that even when everyone takes a little ( <15 percent)--they ultimately get whittled down.

Do you know, can people plant ramps in woodland backyards and get their own patches growing?
Wouldn't that be a great project?

In our Oregon yard, we have a patch of three-cornered leeks. They are notoriously invasive, but in April, they make for great omelets and soups.

Eve Fox said...

Hi Ann, yes, a definite need to to be sensitive in harvesting. And YES, you can certainly plant your own (in fact, I literally just did that half an hour ago). You can order both seeds and bulbs from these folks and plant away! They like hardwood forests (no pines) and fairly shady with sandy, loamy soil. It takes them a while to get going, apparently, but if you know you'll be in a place for some years, it seems totally worthwhile to me!

Carmen said...

I just finished harvesting some ramps this evening. I don't pull up the plant, I always cut it off at ground level with a pair of kitchen sheers and over the years I've watched my prized patches flourish and spread! I like to cut them up and dehydrate them for use in soups and sauces. They are delicious in spaghetti sauce!! And of course Hubby and I will have them in some scrambled eggs in the morning!! Love your blog!

Eve Fox said...

Thanks, Carmen! I love your idea of using just the greens to ensure the health and longevity of the plants, too! Did you plant your own?

rslosek said...

Always just take the leaves. They don't divide very quickly.

Anonymous said...

Please only cut the leaves. If you persist in digging up the whole plant, there soon will be none left!!!

freshwindbrightsky said...

I made the risotto...since I'm such a risotto fanatic. This was such a great way to use ramps!! Thank you!