Wild Ramps

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Wild ramps (Allium tricoccum) are nourishing harbingers of spring. A foraged delicacy, their leaves, stalk and bulb are edible. They are sweetish with a slight pungency. A perennial wild onion with a pungent garlic odor with leek/onion flavor, it is found in Eastern North America from South Carolina to Canada. Also known as wild leek, wood leek, spring onion, wild garlic. Ramps have been embraced by the Appalachian Mountain region. West Virginia is considered the heart of ramp country, where one will find numerous festivals celebrating the harvest.

The plant has broad smooth light green 25 cm long leaves often with a hint of deep purple or burgundy on the lower stems. It has a scallion like stalk producing a flower and the bulb measures half an inch round. Plant leaves wither as the seed stalk develops, flowering in June-July. The preferred habitat is sandy, loamy moist soil under the woodlands canopy. Growing in dense colonies they can be found near streams and under trees. (Beech, Sugar Maple, Birch, Poplar, Hickory, Oak, Linden and Buckeye).

Raw or cooked in soups, pesto, accompanying egg dishes and sautéed with seasonal foraged wild greens, morels and April’s Shad harvest. Ramps have played a part in food culture, folklore and medicinal applications. Native Americans watched the bears forage as they came out of hibernation. Inspired by the animals, they too sought out these spring shoots.

With the arrival of the food to table movement ramps have been publicized in the media, endless recipes are online, restaurants highlight multi-course spring menus, food stores and farmers markets have propelled their popularity. This skyrocketing demand impacts the stability and longevity of this valued food product.

The present foraging techniques and the quantities meeting the demand have consequences that are alerting botanists, environmentalists and naturalists. Both their habitat and species are vulnerable. Ramps are considered a plant species of special concern in Maine, Rhode Island and Tennessee. National parks in both the United States and Canada prohibit ramp foraging. Ramp seeds take 6-18 months to germinate. The plant can take 5-7 years to produce seed. They are slow growers in a delicate ecosystem of the woodlands. To assure ramps prevail for years to come there are sustainable harvest practices that can be implemented and honored. One should be cautious and safely harvest only one of every dozen ramps in a patch. The entire plant and roots should not be taken, only the mature leaves.

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Arca del GustoThe traditional products, local breeds, and know-how collected by the Ark of Taste belong to the communities that have preserved them over time. They have been shared and described here thanks to the efforts of the network that Slow Food has developed around the world, with the objective of preserving them and raising awareness. The text from these descriptions may be used, without modifications and citing the source, for non-commercial purposes in line with the Slow Food philosophy.