Valley Bounty: Wild leeks

  • Ramps, sometimes called “wild leeks,” are a perennial plant from the allium family, shown front and center. Submitted photo

For the Gazette
Published: 5/17/2019 2:34:20 PM
Modified: 5/17/2019 2:34:05 PM

Anna Meyer of Hart Farm in Conway becomes a detective each year at the end of April. “I’m always looking out when I’m driving around,” she said with a laugh. “You can spot them by the side of the road sometimes, especially earlier in the season before there’s other forest floor growth. It’s one of the first green things to pop up.” As you might have guessed, Meyer is eagerly scanning for ramps.

Ramps, sometimes called “wild leeks,” are a perennial plant from the allium family that is rarely cultivated but grows wild throughout the cool, damp forests of the Northeast. For centuries, early spring has spurred foragers like Meyer out into the woods in search of the perfect ramp patch.

In recent years, ramps have been thrust into the spotlight of culinary popularity. Fame can be risky for a wild edible, especially a slow-growing plant like ramps. “There is sort of a devastating situation right now where people are harvesting [ramps] and they’re not growing back,” Meyer explained. “I feel cautious about harvesting them intensively ... it feels like they’re a special gift that the forest gives us, and I don’t want to abuse it.”

To enjoy wild ramps responsibly, look for “leaf only” bunches. Meyer, and other sustainability-minded harvesters, will harvest the ramps’ leaves above the bulbs of the plants and leave the roots undisturbed, which allows the plant to return the following year.

Ramps only grow for a short season in early spring, but Meyer points out that you can enjoy them year-round by making ramp butter. Toss ¼ pound of ramps into a food processor and grind them up. Then add in 1 pound of butter for another round of mixing. Throw it in the freezer and that’s it! You’ve got a delicious garlicy-oniony-butter, great for fancying up your toast for months to come.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)

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