What Are Ramps and What Can I Do with Them?
Also known as wild leeks, these onion family members are prized by cooks for their complex flavor. They're only available for a fleeting period during early spring—here's how to make the most of them.
If the word "ramp" only brings to mind a highway exit, it's time to learn about "wild ramps" (which by the way, have nothing to do with driving). Wild ramps are part of the onion family. (They're also known as wild leeks or wild onions.) They have a sweet, earthy taste that's similar to both scallions and garlic.
Where to find wild ramps
Ramps are native to the East Coast of North America, and can be found as far north as New England and as far south as North Carolina and Tennessee. In Appalachia, there are many festivals devoted to ramps, since their emergence is celebrated as a sign of spring. You can find them at farmers' markets, specialty grocers and sometimes at larger stores like Whole Foods. (Check out these Recipes Fresh from the Farmers' Market)
Found mostly in the wild, ramps prefer to grow in the damp soil under poplar, sugar maple and birch trees. The bulbs grow slowly—a patch size increases by less than 10% each year and it can take seven years for a plant to become mature enough to harvest. Because of this, ramp foraging has been outlawed in Quebec and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While not overly common, some forest farmers do cultivate them as well.
Pictured Recipe: Scrambled Eggs with Ramps & Bacon
When are wild ramps in season?
Ramps season is short and runs only from around late March through late May, depending on the area. Their flavor tends to peak in mid-April after the bulb has gotten bigger. By June, when the flower stalk comes up, the leaves recede and the season is over.
Health benefits of wild ramps
Wild ramps may offer similar health benefits to onions and garlic, as all are part of the Allium family. People who consume high amounts of garlic, onions and leeks were shown to have a lower risk of colorectal cancer, and quercetin, a plant pigment found in onions, has been shown to help regulate blood pressure. Ramps are also high in vitamin C, which may help boost immunity and protect against cardiovascular disease. (Find out how: Eating Onions and Garlic Every Day Could Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk by More Than Half)
How to choose, clean and store wild ramps
Select plants that have the roots intact. The bulbs should be firm and free of cracks and discoloration, and the leaves should look vibrant. You can clean ramps by trimming the root ends, pulling off any limp leaves and holding them under cool running water, which will help dislodge gritty soil.
Ramps that haven't been cleaned can be stored with their bulbs submerged in water for three days at room temperature. Cleaned ramps will last five days in the refrigerator. It's best to wrap them in damp paper towels and place them into a sealed plastic bag. (Check out: The Best Way to Store Fruits and Veggies here.)
How to cook with wild ramps
The entire ramp plant is edible. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads or gently cooked and the bulb can be chopped and used to flavor dishes like eggs or potatoes. Try using ramps in place of scallions or leeks in the spring when they're readily available.