Also known as leeks or wild onions, ramps are sure to spice up your spring!
By Jennifer Dums
Foraging for wild food has been a part of my life since early childhood. One of the earliest memories I have is walking through the woods with my family picking blackberries in the fall. Not only do I get the benefit of healthy, fresh eating, I also get the opportunity to spend quality time with family.
I spend a great deal of time in the spring, summer and fall foraging for wild food, growing fruits and vegetables, and preserving all of it to eat year-round. It is a personally satisfying way to eat clean and healthy.
Ramps, or wild leeks, are a member of the wild onion family. One of the earliest wild edibles to emerge, they start to appear in the early spring, usually around mid-April, in my neck of the woods. Ramps occur in the eastern part of North America, from Georgia through Canada.
You can begin your search in deciduous forests that are damp or near low-lying areas that hold lots of moisture. The sword-shaped, green foliage grows directly up from the underground bulb. The base of the leaves, near the bulb, takes on a reddish color. When picked or crushed, you can immediately smell onion, or to some, a garlic scent.
Clusters of the bright, green leaves will be generally 6 to 10 inches tall. They will be plentiful and quite easy to spot amid the brown of the spring forest. It is easiest to spot during these early stages of growth before the flowers appear, which by that time, ground cover will have taken over making it nearly impossible to find. Once the flowers arrive, the beautiful green leaves usually dieback.
You will want to gently pull the entire bulb from underground to harvest, or use a small shovel. Both the bulb and the leaves are edible. The larger or more mature the leeks, the stronger the flavor.
I enjoy ramps raw in salads, tuna salad sandwiches or sautéed in various cooked dishes. The possibilities are endless as you can interchange them for onions in most recipes. You may choose to freeze the bulb portion for later use; however, the green leaves do not last long and are best consumed fresh.
During this time, we also like to harvest fiddle head ferns and wild edible mushrooms. The combination is delicious!
Prois Wisconsin State Coordinator Jennifer Dums has been fishing and enjoying the outdoors her whole life. Growing up in the UP of Michigan, gathering and foraging for wild foods, preserving as well as providing meat for the table, has been a lifestyle that she learned at a young age. She is passionate about hunting, fishing, bird watching, nature, animals and the serenity of the outdoor lifestyle.