“Ramps” are wild onions (sometimes called “wild leeks”) that grow in the forests of the Appalachian Mountains. They don’t look like the traditional onions that you would grow in the garden. Ramps look more like “Lily of the Valley”– the leaves are elliptical– broad in the middle and narrow at the ends. The lower part of the stem is tinged with ruby red and the underground bulb is lily-white. The bulb part, in fact, looks just like a scallion.
Like other spring ephemerals, ramp leaves emerge from the forest floor early in the growing season (March-April). The tender leaves won’t last long, and folks who harvest them usually do so in April. By May, ramp leaves are turning yellow and dying off.
The show is not over yet though! A single stalk of white flowers will emerge from the ground during the month of June (much like a Resurrection Lily!). By the time the flowers fully open in late June/early July, the original leaves are long gone! A round globe of small white flowers, supported by a stout reddish stem, is all that’s left to be seen.
In Appalachia, ramps are traditionally collected and eaten in the springtime when the greens are young and tender. The entire plant can be chopped and sauteed, and used in any dish that would normally call for onions. Once cooked, the green part of the plant wilts like spinach. Both the bulb and the greens taste like a combination of garlic and sweet onions, which is to say– ramps are delicious!
The flowers in the gallery below were photographed on June 29th in both 2014 and 2015!
Ramps prefer to grow in cool, moist forests, often near streams. When conditions are right, they can cover the forest floor for great distances, as you will see in all the photos.
To celebrate ramp season in the Appalachian Mountains, some communities hold ramp festivals. Here’s a link to one in West Virginia– check it out: http://www.richwooders.com/ramp/ramps.htm
2 Comments Add yours
i am a tech alum and i have been desperately searching for ramps and have been unable to find any. would you be willing to email me and give me any pointers about where you have been able to find them in the area? i would certainly keep this conversation between us. please let me know! my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. thank you so, so much.