Ramps, Ramps on the range
Ramps are a natural plant food that grow wild in the Appalachian region of the US from South Carolina to Canada. They also can be found in certain areas as far west as Missouri and Minnesota.
Yo Homme, smell you later
Ramps are a type of wild leek, related to the onion family. The plant has a white bulb topped by broad green leaves. Their habitat is in the rich moist deciduous forest.
Ramps are one of the first plants to emerge in the spring and as such are considered a tonic. They are rich in vitamins and minerals. Ramps are compared to young spring onions with a very strong garlicy smell. Like young onions they have a papery sheath which needs removal before eating. The whole plant is edible, leaves as well as the bulb. Ramps are reputed to keep away vampires, evil spirits and neighbors! Ramps are traditionally prepared by frying with potatoes or scrambling them with eggs, but can be used in soups, stews, and other dishes wherever one would use onions, garlic, or leeks. Ramps can be eaten raw but the strong smell stays with the eater for days. They can be pickled or dried for later use. Ramps are a seasonal delicacy, usually being harvested for a brief 5-6 week period in the spring. They can be harvested later, though the leaves disappear.
Ramps as a reason for gathering
The popularity of ramps in the Appalachians has led to numerous festivals based on the consumption of ramps, either cooked or raw. These 'ramp festivals' occur in West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and other areas and are strongly promoted by their host communities.
Warning: Ramp Zone Ahead!
Ramps are a slowly recovering plants species, and as such the harvesting of ramps has been banned since 2002 in the Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. It can take several years for a population to recover from a single harvest. Ramps have recently started to enjoy demand in gourmet restaurants. The demand for ramps has led to research into methods to grow the delicacies commercially.
Ramps are found in cool shady areas in damp rich soil high in organic matter in deciduous forests. The new leaves emerge from the perennial bulb in early spring around late March before the trees grow their leaf canopy. Leaves reach a length of 4" to 12" and a width of 1" to 2.5". By late May as the trees develop their leaf canopy and sunlight is blocked the ramp leaves die back and a flower stalk emerges. The stalk is usually from 6" to 18 " in height. The flower blooms in June and the seeds mature atop the now leafless stalk. The flower is six petaled, of either a white or creamy coloration. The flowers give way to three lobed green fruit which eventually dry and open to reveal the seeds in clusters of three. The seeds drop to the ground, there to germinate and start the cycle anew.
Ramps resemble Lily-of-the-Valley which is a poisonous plant. Lily-of-the-Valley when bruised lacks the pungent scent of ramps. As with harvesting all wild growing foodstuffs, it is important to make correct identification.