Ramps (also known as wild leeks) are members of the allium family, which includes chives, garlic, leeks, scallions, and shallots. Ramps grow amongst the leaf litter in the rich, moist soil of the forest. They have a delicate look about them with slender white stems that turn burgundy at the base and two leaves that fan out like a crocus. Ramp season lasts for only two months, from April to May, when bright spring sunshine reaches the forest floor before leaves appear in the forest canopy and shade them out. We've got a lovely ramp print and also an adorable one of a kind bookmark too!
If you’re scouting ramps in the wild, look for clumps of broad, smooth leaves growing from the forest floor. Using a trowel, pull back the leaf litter and soil to expose the top of the white bulbs and only clip one or two leaves, leaving the bulb to grow again. To confirm that that you’ve found ramps, break off a piece of leaf and give it the sniff test. Does it smell like onions or garlic? Good. Ramps look similar to the poisonous Lily of the Valley, so sniff before you taste.
Ramps are definitely delicious. They have a unique flavor somewhere between onion and garlic. When you get them home, gently wrap the unwashed roots and leaves in damp paper towels and store them in a resealable plastic bag or large airtight container. If stored properly, they should last for at least three to four days. Ramps, unlike leeks, require little cleaning. Just give them a good rinse, trim the root hairs and they are ready for cooking. They can be sautéed, chopped up and added to scrambled eggs, pickled or served in a springtime risotto.
Foragers have been accused of damaging future populations of ramps by harvesting too frequently and digging out the bulbs, so make sure you practice sustainable foraging — only harvest from healthy beds, not areas that have already been overharvested, only harvest about 20 percent of any given clump, and only take the leaves, not the bulbs. Once overharvested, ramps come back slowly, if at all. It takes a year for their seeds to germinate and at least five years for the plants to reach maturity.
I've foraged for ramps just about every spring for the last 10 years or so. In Michigan, ramps aren't as popular as they are in some other parts of the state so most ramp patches are relatively unharvested. In one of my favorite little spots, we were able to go camping one year and we harvested half a dozen or so. We bought a filet of lake trout, some locally foraged morels and some lovely sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil and made a true spring feast in a cast iron pan.= over the campfire.