Ramps (Allium tricoccum), or wild leeks, occur at higher elevations in Eastern North America from Georgia to Canada. Their sharp flavor is characteristic of a combination of garlic and onion. Ramps are easily recognized by their 1 or 2 broad leaves measuring 1 to 2 1/2 inches wide and 4 to 12 inches long. Foraging ramps has long been a popular activity throughout their range. Historically ramps were regarded as a spring tonic in the Appalachians. They are widely celebrated by tens of thousands of ramp lovers who attend numerous ramp festivals every spring. Ramp festivals are partly responsible for severely impacting ramp populations throughout their range.
Avoid the deadly lily-of-the-valley which looks similar to ramps. While ramp leaves have a pungeant garlic odor, lily-of-the-valley has no odor.
Both the leaves and the bulbs of ramps can be eaten and both are delicious. They are best used fresh, but can also be prepared for long term storage. We've found the best way to store the bulbs is by freezing. Simply cut off the greens, clean the dirt off the bulbs and cut off the roots. Then spread the bulbs out on a sheet pan or waxed paper so they are not touching and freeze. This prevents them from sticking together. Once they are frozen put them in jars or plastic containers, seal tightly and return to freezer. They may alternatively be stored wrapped individually in wax paper and stored frozen in sealed jars or pickled or pressure canned.
The greens don't last long fresh and deteriorate when frozen. Although they can be dried, they lose much of their flavor. We've found the best way to preserve them is by making ramp compound butter and a close second is ramp pesto. Either may be stored in the refrigerator in the short term or frozen for use later.
For short term storage put ramps in the refrigerator as soon as possible. They should be stored uncleaned. If a refrigerator is not immediately available ramps can be kept with the bulbs submerged in a bucket of water and placed in a cool shaded area. The leaves will begin to wilt in the refrigerator after 4 days or so and in the bucket after a day or so depending on temperature.
Ramp bulbs and leaves may be diced and used just as you would use onions, green onions, leeks, chives and garlic, but they are much more potent. They pair well with the following:
- chanterelles and other wild mushrooms
- stir fried and raw greens
Ramps are normally found at around 3000 ft. or higher in the Southern Appalachian region but occur at lower elevations in colder climates. They like rich, moist, loose soil high in organic matter and low in pH, which makes mountain hardwood forests perfect. Ramps grow in small sparsley populated patches up to densley populated areas of several acres. They are usually ready to harvest by mid March through April depending on the region and only last a month or so before wilting and disappearing. It is extremely important to think conservationally when considering ramp harvest. In many areas where ramps were once abundant they are now rare and populations continue to be decimated by over-harvest for ramp festivals, fundraisers, farmers market sales and by individuals who gather as much as they can for their own use. Please be gentle and judicious.
The most sustainable way to harvest ramps is by using a knife to gently move the soil from one side of the bulb. Then, taking care not to dislodge the bulb and roots, cut the base off of the bulb leaving it with the roots in the ground. This will ensure new ramps will grow the following season.