Ramps are one of the great treats of springtime in Northeast Ohio.
Once the domain of hardcore foragers in the Appalachians, ramps are more and more known as the “it” spring ingredient. Which is amazing for an innocuous wild plant sometimes called the King of Stink. Despite that reputation, if you’ve never had ramps, you’re in for a treat.
Also known as wild leeks, wild garlic or wild alliums, ramps are a perennial wild onion that looks a bit like a leafy scallion and mixes the scent of garlic with the taste of onion, but stronger tasting and more fragrant than either. They are wonderful additions to soups, salads, casseroles or anything that benefits from more garlic or onion.
If you know where to look, which is just about anywhere there are woods around Cleveland (pay special attention to south-facing slopes), it’s not hard to find a forest floor covered with ramps. Should you happen upon such a sight, help yourself, but please be sure to follow the tips below and do so responsibly. A good rule of thumb is to harvest less than 10% of the patch no more than once every 10 years, so you can enjoy some ramps next year and for years after that.
Ramps grow in clumps connected by a rhizome, a horizontal underground stem that sends out roots and shoots. When taking from a clump, be sure to carefully replant what you’re not taking, including the rhizome.
Know where you’re harvesting. Sadly, foraging for ramps is not permitted in Cleveland Metroparks sites or Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Violating that law in the national park could result in a misdemeanor citation. There’s hope that these rules may be changed, but for now these places are off limits.
If you’re purchasing ramps, don’t be afraid to ask purveyors how their ramps were harvested. At the farmers markets the people selling you the ramps were likely involved in their harvesting. Let the forager know that you’re interested in the long-term sustainability of ramps. And the same goes in restaurants: Ask questions, and if you have a concern about the answer, order something else and let them know why.
Much of this information was found in a highly informative New York Times article, “When Digging for Ramps Goes Too Deep,” written by Indrani Sen and published on April 19, 2011.