Last week as Maggie and I walked into the office at Pine Mountain to check our mail, I smelled something strange and somewhat unpleasant. Just as I opened my mouth to comment on this odor Maggie exclaimed “the ramp seed is here!” Despite the fact that the ramp seeds were sealed in plastic bags and mailed in a small box, the smell still spread through the office in just several hours time. So our administrative staff was happy to see the small box with its strange odor leave, but we were excited to be receiving the seed to give to our participants and to plant at the Settlement School!
Ramp seed ready to be planted
            Now, ramps, also known as wild leeks or Allium tricoccom, are widely known for their offensive smell, but they are great for cooking and have numerous health benefits as well. Ramps are in the wild onion family, they have scallion like bulbs, a purple tinted stem, and broad smooth, light green leaves. Ramps are native to the Appalachian region and can either grow wild or be cultivated in damp wooded areas. Ramps are described as having a flavor that is a mixture of onion and garlic and they are high in vitamins C and A. Ramps also contain many other healthful minerals, and have traditionally been used as a cure for the common cold. Recent studies have shown ramps to have cholesterol reducing properties and research is currently being conducted pertaining to possible anti cancer agents that ramps contain.

            David Cooke provided a simple planting guide with the seed that he sent out and I will summarize that here for those of you that are interested. Ramp seed is worth 10 cents per seed, so it is very expensive and well worth your time to plant it if you receive free bags of seed like we did! Ramp seed is also very easy to plant and cultivate. So, first things first the seed should be spread at an average of 24 seeds to the square foot. Find a wooded slope about midway up a hillside that is northeast facing and damp but not extremely wet, then use a rake to pull back leaf litter in a patch as large as you choose. Then spread the seed evenly, walk over it several times to settle it into the soil, and pull the leaf matter back over the area. Voilà, now just mark the patch so that you don’t forget where you planted them and the ramps should sprout after 1-2 years of dormancy.

Maggie raking a spot for our ramp seed
          Once harvested ramps are edible and can be prepared in many different ways. Ramps can be used to replace leeks or onions in any recipe, or can simply be used to add extra flavor to any dish as would onions or garlic. Ramps are traditionally prepared with scrambled eggs or fried potatoes, but can also be eaten raw or added to soup, pasta, sauces, etc. Ramps are also becoming very popular in the restaurant world and many “white table cloth” restaurants will buy ramps for $10-15 per pound. Needless to say, if you can get your hands on some free ramp seed, it really can’t hurt to take the time to plant it!
Thank you to David Cooke and the ramp seed donor for this wonderful opportunity!

Here are several links to ramp related resources:
A list of Ramp Festivals throughout the Appalachian region: