How to identify, grow and prepare ramps or wild leeks

Submitted 7 months ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

If you have a patch of woods dominated by maple, ash and beech trees, and with rich, moist soil, you can grow ramps, also called wild leeks. In fact, you may already have a nice spring treat just waiting for you to pick some. Once established, a patch of ramps will provide you with spring treats in perpetuity. For 10 years I planted 50 ramps each year, and now I no longer need to search for them in the wild.

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Ramps have pointed green leaves roughly the shape of a canoe and 6 to 9 inches long and 2 or 3 inches wide. They grow from a single point, each plant having 2 to 4 leaves. 

Transplanting ramps is easy. Just find a place similar to where they were growing in the wild.

Frequently the base of the stem is maroon, but it may be green. Most often they grow in large patches with hundreds or thousands of plants in one location.  But do not go overboard if harvesting ramps in the wild. Dig a few to eat, but don’t decimate a patch as they are slow-growing. Bring a shovel or trowel when you harvest ramps as they do not pull easily.

Base of ramp leaf is often maroon

In a few weeks you will see their flowers: white clusters of blossoms on a stem above the leaves, each cluster like a little balloon. You can plant the seeds in the fall, once the seeds have turned black. The black seeds are easy to spot if you note where the plants are now, but the leaves will be gone long before the fall. I just lay the seed on the soil surface, and cover with leaves, as Mother Nature would do.

Ramp flowers about to open

You can dig ramps and eat the bulbs, or just cut off a handful of green leaves, and chop them up to add to a breakfast omelet or dinner stir-fry. I find the leaves are better tasting, and milder than the bulbs. You can also make a pesto using the leaves, much as you would do with basil – and you don’t need to add garlic.

Ramps in the kitchen

I’ve been told that one can freeze ramps for use in the winter, but I’ve never done so. For me ramps are a spring treat that gives my body some unusual flavors and perhaps some uncommon minerals and vitamins.

 It's time to do some pruning on your roses and hydrangeas. Click here to read what to do

Fiddleheads are still available in cool, shady places. Click here to learn which ones are edible and how to prepare them. 

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