With the beautiful weather we’ve been having, you may have found the time to take a stroll through the nearby woods. While admiring the trees and newly blossoming wildflowers, you may have stopped to think, “Did I have onions at lunch? Where is that smell coming from?” Thankfully, it probably isn’t your breath you’re smelling, but the recently emerged Ramps!
Ramps (Allium tricoccum), also known as “Wild Leeks,” are wild plants from the onion family that grow in forests all over Appalachia. If you don’t know them from your family harvesting them for years, you may have heard about them from gourmet cooking websites and magazines. Every April, the cooking community launches itself into a frenzy over ramp season. The plants have a pungent taste as well as odor, and are only available for a short time of the year, which leads to a lot of chefs buying up a large part of what’s available. This scarcity also leads to some pretty high prices, with a pound of ramps sometimes costing over $20!
The biggest issue with the high demand for ramps is the subsequent over-harvesting. Ramps are extremely slow-growing, with female plants not producing seeds stalks until reaching 7 years old. Many people trump into the forests every year with wheelbarrows and shovels, destroying ramp patches across Appalachia. Since ramps are so delicious, and asking people to give them up entirely would be a shame, I’ve compiled some tips for sustainably harvesting the ramps in your forest!
- Only harvest ramps from large patches (10 or more plants) if possible
- Avoid plants with seed stalks
- Only harvest 1/5 of the patch you harvest from
- Skip the bulbs- the leaves are just as delicious, and this allows the plant to survive and send up some new leaves. If you must have some bulb, don’t take more than the top 1/3 of it. Any more than that and the plant will die.
- Take leaves from plants with 2 or more leaves. While some hardy plants will be able to survive all of their leaves being cut off, leaving at least one attached helps ensure the plant’s survival.
If you do get a chance to harvest some, or buy them at market, there are endless ways to cook them. Grilling, pickling, frying, and sauteing are some common and delicious methods. If you’re looking for something fancy, try this recipe. Harvest sustainably and enjoy the bounty!