Ramps: How to Forage & Eat Wild Leeks (2023)

Sustainably harvested ramps.

Identification & habitat

Ramps occur in Eastern North America from Georgia to Canada. They're easily recognized by their 1, 2, or 3 broad leaves measuring 1 to 3 1/2 inches wide and 4 to 12 inches long.

There are a couple of varieties:

Allium tricoccum var. tricoccum: These have wider leaves and red stems.

Allium tricoccum var.burdickii: Also known as narrow-leaf or white ramps.

White-stemmed narrow-leaf ramps (Allium tricoccum var.burdickii) tend to have a milder flavor than the red-stemmed variety. They also have smaller leaves (up to 1 1/2 inches wide), as well as smaller bulbs.

Ramp leaves appear from March to April and last until around mid-May to June depending on the local climate. As temperatures get warmer, the leaves will turn yellow and die.

Look for them underneath dense deciduous forest canopy in soil that's rich with organic matter.

In general, Narrow-leaf ramps are more likely to be found in more well-drained, dryer woods, while red-stemmed ramps prefer damper soil.

That being said, it's not uncommon to find both varieties growing side-by-side.

There are some dangerous look-alikes so be sure the plants you pick smell like onion or garlic.

Do not pick the dangerous Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) or False hellebore (Veratrum genus) by mistake.

(Video) Ramps / Wild Leeks Harvest: Foraging and Cooking Wild Food. How to find and cook ramps.

Again, make sure they smell like onion or garlic. If you're unsure, let a knowledgeable forager confirm your find or just pass on picking.

It may also be helpful to consult multiple references for more positive identification.

Sustainability

Unfortunately for ramps, they're super-trendy these days. Chefs, foodies, and other ramp-lovers flock to the mountains by the thousandsfor a chance to bask in their gourmet-ness.

"Ramp feeds," known as ramp festivals now, have been taking a toll on ramp populations for years and the added pressure of their recent popularity has really put a hurting on their numbers.

The implications affect conservationists and foodies alike. Cindy and I are conservationists first and foragers second. What this means for us is that ramping is not only unsustainable, but it gets more arduous each year as we climb higher and longer to find undiscovered ramp patches.

Traditionally, the Cherokee dug, and still dig, ramps by leaving the roots. This is done by cutting off the bottom of the bulb with a knife while it's still in the ground (more on the how-to below).

Ramps: How to Forage & Eat Wild Leeks (1)

Harvesting

If you plan on digging ramps on public land, you'll want to look into whether local regulations restrict harvest amounts, where harvesting is permitted, etc.

In West Virginia where we live, as of 2020, the Forest Service allows harvesting for personal use only -- anyone can dig up to two gallons of ramps at a time. That's about the volume of a plastic grocery bag or, according to the USFS, about 180 plants with leaves and roots.

And digging is no longer permitted in some parks due to declining ramp populations, so please be aware of local rules and conservation issues.

Here are a few things you'll need for harvesting ramps:

  • Time
    This one is really important. It's way too easy to run up to the ramp patch after work with good intentions of sustainbly digging ramps. You get to the trailhead at 5:30pm and it's 6pm by the time you're digging ramps. The sun's about to slip behind the mountains and you're in a sudden hurry to get your ramps and get out of there. So you abandon your plan and jerk as many roots out of the ground as you can before running out. DON'T DO IT!

    (Video) Foraging for Ramps! (Wild Leeks)

    Sustainably harvesting takes more time, so you really need to make allowance for it. Plus it's a lot more fun to have a leisurely walk into the woods, not worrying about racing the waning light. If you can't give yourself the time to do it, please consider taking only greens and leaving the bulbs undisturbed. You won't need nearly as much time if you only harvest leaves!

  • Sharp hunting knife
    Make sure it's sharp! A dull knife will do more harm than good -- you'll end up mutilating the bulb so it's not useable as food and not viable as a plant. You may even want to touch up the blade as you dig, since the grit of the dirt will take your edge. You'll also want to make sure the blade is at least three or fourinches so you can easily reach the root without disturbing the soil.

    If you insist on digging the root, use a hori hori knife to minimize impact.

  • Backpack or shoulder bag
    I usually put a few plastic grocery bags in a backpack and then load a bag or two with ramps before putting them in my pack, which helps keeps the dirt out of the pack.

The most sustainable way to harvest ramps is to cut only one leaf, leaving the bulb and second leaf to continue growing. This is least impactful on the soil, the plant, and the colony as a whole.

The leaves, in my opinion are the best part, anyway, and taking only leaves is the best way to ensure the colony will remain viable.

Ramps: How to Forage & Eat Wild Leeks (2)

If you insist on taking bulbs, please dig sustainably with a knife: Simply insert your knife into the dirt at an angle and slice off a third or so of the root, leaving it in the ground to re-grow. Then pull the rest of the plant out by its stems.

It will take a little practice to get a feel for where to put the knife. You can also gently pull back the dirt from around the bulb so you can see where you're cutting. If you do this, make sure to pull back just enough dirt to expose a little bit of the bulb and re-cover the roots after cutting.

That's all there is to digging. Please be judicious and don't take any more than you will use.

I find that when I overzealously harvest, it makes more work for me in the long run, because some ramps will inevitably go bad before I can get to them. There's not much more disgusting than the smell of past-their-prime ramps. And a few ramps go a long way so there's no need to stockpile them.

Even though we practice sustainable harvest, I'm afraid the ever-inceasing demand will eclipse the slow procreation.

(Video) Foraging for Ramps (wild leeks)

According to North Carolina Extension Horticultural Specialist Jeanine M. Davis, ramps can be transplanted and cultivated from seed in climates where ramps don't normally grow. Apparently, it takes some effort to germinate seeds when climes are warmer than ideal, but it can be done.

And once a good patch is established, it requires little maintenance. Jeanine recommends the book Having Your Ramps and Eating Them Tooby the "Johnny Appleseed of Ramps" for more info on cultivating ramps.

We've been growing our own for a while. Our homestead is located in the ramp belt now, but our previous place was outside of ramp habitat. When we lived there, our planted ramps didn't spread because conditions weren't ideal.

They did grow, though, and as long as we continued to plant new ramps, we always had a steady supply right outside of our door.

Where to buy

If you're lucky enough to live in an area where ramps are abundant, it's not uncommon to see them in the grocery store when they're in season. Where we live, they're also common in seasonal dishes served at local restaurants.

If you're outside of the ramp belt, you can find fresh ramps on Etsy, which are suitable for eating or planting.

Ramps: How to Forage & Eat Wild Leeks (3)

Storing & preserving

Ramps are only in season for a month or so, but, for us, getting them is only half the problem. I usually come back from a good ramping trip with enough for us to eat fresh before they go bad with a little extra to keep for eating later (I rarely go digging more than once a season unless I come home with a particularly light harvest).

Both leaves and bulbs can be eaten and both are delicious.They're best used fresh, but both can be put away for eating later in the year.

The easiest way to store ramp bulbs is by freezing: Simply cut off the greens, clean the dirt off the bulbs and cut off the roots (if your ramps still have 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're frozen, put them in jars or plastic containers, seal tightly and put in thefreezer for up to six months.You can also wrap them individually in wax paper and storefrozen in sealed jars. They can also be pickled but we don't usually bother.

The greens won't last long fresh and deteriorate when frozen.They can be dried, but they lose a lot of their flavor.We've found the best way to preserve them is by making ramp compound butter (see recipe below). A close second is ramp pesto.Either can be stored in the refrigerator in the short term or frozen for use later.

(Video) Foraging Ramps (Wild Leeks) – Allium tricoccum May 5, 2020

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 start to wilt in the refrigerator after 4 days or so and in the bucket after a day or so depending on temperature.

Cooking & eating

Ramp bulbs and leaves can 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:

  • pasta

  • eggs

  • chanterelle mushrooms and other wild mushrooms

  • potatoes

  • stir fried and raw greens

  • pork

Some folks like to eat ramps raw. I like a little chopped up in a salad, but ramps as a cooked vegetable are a lot more fun. My favorite way to eat them is mixed into venison burgers or inramp and white cheddar soup. And it's hard to beat ramps and eggs for breakfast.

Ramps: How to Forage & Eat Wild Leeks (4)A few years back, Cindy came across this sweet little book from West Virginia calledMom & Ramps Forever!by Barbara Beury McCallum. There's some fun anecdotal history on ramps in there. It's also a collection of old timey recipes and stand-bys like pickled ramps and ramp champ - mashed potatoes with ramps. Here's one of the recipes... quick and easy and sounds tasty:

Ramps With Watercress

(Video) Ramp Foraging and Cooking. Sustainably harvesting Wild Leeks and Stir fry recipe. Bushcraft cooking.

"Fry some bacon until crisp, remove the bacon then drain off part of the bacon drippings. Put washed cress into the pan with the water that clings to it. Cook covered, until tender. Garnish with crumpled bacon, finely chopped ramps, and some chopped hard cooked eggs."

Unfortunately,Mom & Ramps Forever!is out of print, but it's a nice one for the collection if you can find it.

FAQs

What part of a ramp do you eat? ›

From their small white bulb that resembles a spring onion to their large green leaves, every part of a ramp is edible (just trim off the roots at the end of the bulb).

What is the difference between wild leeks and ramps? ›

Ramps (which are sometimes called wild leeks or spring onions, adding to the confusion) look like scallions, but they're smaller and slightly more delicate, and have one or two flat, broad leaves. They taste stronger than a leek, which generally has a mild onion flavor, and are more pungently garlicky than a scallion.

How do you cut wild ramps? ›

The most sustainable way to harvest ramps is to cut only one leaf, leaving the bulb and second leaf to continue growing. This is least impactful on the soil, the plant, and the colony as a whole.

What do you do with wild ramps? ›

Ramps can be roasted, grilled, sautéed, and also used raw, in dishes like salads or pesto. They can be used in risottos and other rice dishes, sauces, pastas and potato dishes, eggs, and on top of crostini, just for a few examples. Use both the white bulbs and the green leaves (the leaves are milder in flavor).

How do you prepare ramps to eat? ›

Ramps can be eaten raw or cooked. To enjoy raw ramps, simply slice them and use them as you would scallions or chives. Sprinkle raw ramps into salads, on scrambled eggs, over the top of tacos, or on a baked potato with sour cream.

Can I eat the whole ramp? ›

There are countless of ways to use ramps, beyond simply slicing and sautéing as you would any other allium (they are just leeks, after all). Roast or grill them whole—the high temperature will render the bulbs tender, while making for some seriously crispy leaves. And yes, you can, and should, eat the entire thing.

What part of a wild leek can you eat? ›

The leaves and bulbs are edible raw or cooked. Depending on the geographic area you are foraging in, it is highly recommended to only harvest one leaf per plant due to the 7-year growth cycle. Please refer to: How to Take a Leek in the Woods.

How do you eat wild leeks? ›

Wild leeks can be enjoyed raw, pickled or cooked. They're the perfect addition to a spring salad, you can use them in soups, pestos and stir-fries, or you can dehydrate them and grind them into a powder. Basically, anywhere you'd use shallots or scallions, you could easily sub a wild leek instead!

What part of a wild leek is edible? ›

Wild Leeks, also called "ramps," are a popular edible that grows in quality hardwood forests across the Midwest to the Northeast, and south to Virginia. The broad flat leaves with burgundy stems emerge in early spring from a bulb. Both the leaves and bulbs are edible and have a mild onion flavor.

How do you responsibly forage ramps? ›

To harvest a ramp sustainably, foragers should cut one edible leaf from the plant and leave the second leaf and bulb intact. If more of the plant is desired, one should carefully dig into the dirt and slice through the bulb a third of the way down, leaving the bottom of the bulb and roots intact.

How do you forage ramps? ›

While foraging, use your best judgement whenever you come across a patch of ramps. If it looks thin, move on. When approaching thick, healthy patches of ramps, as Duran explained: With a small sharp knife, cut leaves from the center of clusters of ramp plants, and never pull up their roots.

Are there poisonous ramps? ›

Always be careful when harvesting wild foods. Like most wild edible plants, ramps do have poisonous or inedible look-alikes.

How much are wild ramps worth? ›

The recent obsession with ramps has also driven up demand, making them expensive Prices can sometimes run up to as much as $20 a pound.

How long do ramps stay fresh? ›

Ramps will stay fresh in your refrigerator for three to four days. Try wrapping them in newsprint -- better yet, seal them in several plastic bags, unless you want everything in your refrigerator to taste like ramps. They can also be chopped, put in an airtight container, and kept in the freezer for up to a year.

Should you refrigerate ramps? ›

Though the leaves are fragile, properly handled ramps will stay fresh in the fridge for up to a week: Rinse and dry them thoroughly with paper towels, then tightly wrap them together in plastic, remove all the air, and store them in the crisper in the fridge.

What are ramps and how do you eat them? ›

Ramps can be eaten raw, like green onions or scallions, but they're frequently cooked down, like leeks. While they aren't as hardy as leeks, the leaves are much more resilient to heat than the delicate shoots of chives or scallions, so don't be afraid to add some to a stir-fry or side of sautéed greens.

Do ramps have nutritional value? ›

Like all onions, ramps are rich in vitamins A and C, selenium, and chromium. That makes them good for teeth, bones, eyesight, the immune system, the cardiovascular system. They contain antioxidant properties that fight off harmful free radicals in the body.

Do ramps have poisonous look alikes? ›

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Wild leeks, also known as ramps, are a wild edible that many Vermonters enjoy each spring. If you are foraging for them, be careful to not mistake the ramps for a poisonous lookalike plant called false hellebore. The young leaves of American false hellebore are often mistaken for ramps.

What part of the leek should you not eat? ›

With leeks, the general trend is to use the white part and throw away the green. This green part contains a lot of vitamin C and it can be used in many recipes. You only have to remove a few centimeters of the usually woody upper part from the leaves. Boiled leaves can be used for sauces, soups or casseroles.

Can you eat raw wild leeks? ›

Also known as 'ramps', or 'ail des bois', Wild Leeks have a strong flavour similar to an onion or strong garlic. They are edible either raw or cooked, and the bulbs and the leaves are both delicious.

What month do you harvest wild leeks? ›

When to Harvest Ramps? - Wild Leeks are ephemeral plants (see the definition above). This means they leaf out in the spring, usually mid-May.

Do you only eat the white part of leeks? ›

Although they look like a larger form of a green onion, the edible part of the plant is actually the white and light green part – sometimes referred to as the stalk or stem. The dark green part is also edible, but is quite bitter and is often discarded. They have a mild, onion-flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked.

What are the health benefits of wild leeks? ›

The bottom line

Leeks and wild ramps boast a variety of nutrients and beneficial compounds that may improve your digestion, promote weight loss, reduce inflammation, fight heart disease, and combat cancer. In addition, they may lower blood sugar levels, protect your brain, and fight infections.

How do you dry ramps? ›

Take a handful of washed ramps and ramp leaves. Pat them dry with a paper towel. Spread the ramps and leaves on the baking sheet so they are flat and not touching each other. Bake until the thickest ramp on the baking sheet is completely dehydrated, about an hour.

Can you freeze fresh ramps? ›

You can also freeze plain ramps without oil, but they'll need to be blanched first. Blanch the ramp bulbs in boiling water for 15 seconds before plunging them into an ice water bath. Pack them up for the freezer and you're good to go.

Do ramps like sun or shade? ›

Ramps need lots of sun early in the growing season, and they like shade when the growing season is over to conserve soil moisture and temperature (Figure 3). Ramps grow best under hardwood trees such as beech, birch, maple, tulip poplar, buckeye (Aesculus sp.), basswood, hickory (Carya sp.), and oak (Quercus sp.).

How deep do you plant ramps? ›

Plant your seeds, bulbs, or transplants.

Ramps can be planted by seed, bulb, or transplant. Plant seeds one to two inches apart, at a depth equal to twice the seed's diameter. Bulbs should be planted 2–4 inches deep, and transplants should be planted deep enough to cover the white ramp bulb. 3.

Why are wild leeks called ramps? ›

The name “ramp” comes from its similarity to an English plant called the “ransom” (Allium ursinus) which was called “ramson” in earlier times.

Are wild ramps poisonous? ›

Ramps are one of the earliest edible plants to emerge from the ground in the spring and have a distinct strong garlic/onion fragrance so do not be confused by the poisonous look-a-likes Convallaria majalis or Veratrum spp.

Do wild ramps multiply? ›

They flower and go to seed, like most plants. Those seeds then drop and make new plants. But you'll have lots of trouble finding these seeds. Ramps also reproduce by way of bulbs.

Do ramps always have red stems? ›

If you're willing to take a hike, it's reliable you'll walk into some ramps in the DC area. Unlike mushrooms, where there're clones, there's nothing that looks like a ramp, and they're unique in terms of their appearance — two leaves and a red stem. Most times they'll grow amongst a lot of trees.

How do you get ramps to spread? ›

Harvesting. Although you can harvest your ramps at any time, harvesting before the patch has had a chance to enlarge will very quickly deplete the patch. It's best to give the patch a few years to spread out, then harvest by thinning out the largest plants, digging the whole clump, bulb and all.

Are ramps medicinal? ›

Medicinally, ramps play an important part of a healthy diet for many in the Appalachian region. This plant has been shown to culture a healthy digestive tract, as well as reduce cholesterol and lipids within the circulatory system.

Do ramps smell like onions? ›

Fresh ramps smell like a cross between garlic and onions (OK, really strong garlic and onions). But, when grilled or sauteed, they mellow, offering a flavor that combines the best of both. Still, ramps get no respect. Maybe the wild leeks suffer a lowbrow reputation because they are a foraged food.

Can you eat wilted ramps? ›

The leaves can be sautéed until just wilted or tossed in a food processor with some softened butter to make a flavorful topping for just about anything.

Can you dry wild ramps? ›

Set the dehydrator to 160° and dry the stems and leaves for about 6 hours until they were crispy dry. **Hot tip: unless you want your home smelling like Shrek's house, put the dehydrater in your garage or anywhere besides in your kitchen! Ramps have a very pungent smell that will linger!

Can you sell wild ramps? ›

You cannot sell ramps anywhere, even if they come from another province, and anyone caught with more than five bulbs may face a $500 fine. So what's a trend-minded and ramp-crazy chef to do?

Do all ramps have red stems? ›

Unlike mushrooms, where there're clones, there's nothing that looks like a ramp, and they're unique in terms of their appearance — two leaves and a red stem. Most times they'll grow amongst a lot of trees.

Can you eat ramp seeds? ›

Other Edible Parts: Seeds, Flowers, and Scapes

Ramps have more than just bulbs and leaves. These additional parts are not mentioned by many other authors, and are also sustainable things to harvest, and a good reason to come check on your ramp patch to get other things later in the season like mushrooms.

What does ramp mean in food? ›

Ramps, also sometimes called wild leeks, are a type of wild onion, and they look similar to a scallion or spring onion — they have a bulb and a tall stalk and long, flat green leaves on top. They have a strong flavor that can taste like a cross between an onion and garlic.

What is ramp in Italian food? ›

Ramps are a wild spring onion, with a delicate taste somewhere at the nexus of leeks, chives, and maybe a hint of garlic. Sometimes called wild leeks, ramps have two long, flat leaves and a very short growing season (just a few weeks).

How much do wild ramps sell for? ›

Wild Leeks, also called "ramps," are a popular edible that grows in quality hardwood forests across the Midwest to the Northeast, and south to Virginia. The broad flat leaves with burgundy stems emerge in early spring from a bulb. Both the leaves and bulbs are edible and have a mild onion flavor… 1-4 $6.99 ea.

How do you clean and eat ramps? ›

Rinse ramps under cool running water. Discard any tough, over-large leaves unless your recipe involves pureeing. (The leaves offer a lot of flavor but can be difficult to chew.) Pull back and peel off any translucent skins (these are similar to the skins you find on scallions or green onions).

How do you responsibly harvest ramps? ›

To harvest a ramp sustainably, foragers should cut one edible leaf from the plant and leave the second leaf and bulb intact. If more of the plant is desired, one should carefully dig into the dirt and slice through the bulb a third of the way down, leaving the bottom of the bulb and roots intact.

Why are ramps Special? ›

Ramps (allium tricoccum) are a wild plant that are among the first green things to pop out of the ground in the spring, and while they're related to leeks (allium porrum) and shallots (allium stipitatum), they're prized for their unique flavor more pungent than both of those.

Are ramps healthy? ›

Are Ramps Healthy? Like all onions, ramps are rich in vitamins A and C, selenium, and chromium. That makes them good for teeth, bones, eyesight, the immune system, the cardiovascular system. They contain antioxidant properties that fight off harmful free radicals in the body.

Are ramps the same as wild onions? ›

The scientific name for ramps is Allium tricoccum, but they are also known as wild onions, spring onions, wild leeks and wild garlic.

Why is it called ramp? ›

The term 'Ramp' traces its roots back to the days of seaplanes when there literally was a ramp from the water to the terminal parking area. In case of seaplanes, the area is actually an inclined plane between the shore and water. This is similar to the term boat ramp. Note that this is used mainly in US.

Videos

1. Sustainably foraging for ramps (wild leeks)!!
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2. Ramp Harvesting - How and Why to Sustainably Forage for Wild Leeks (aka Dont Be Rude)
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3. Cooking with Ramps! (Wild Leeks)
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4. Early Spring Foraging - Ramps(Wild Leeks)
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5. Wild Edible Foraging Ramps/Leeks
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6. Foraging for Wild Leeks with Chef Shawn Adler
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