Foraging for ramps takes place across North America In The Springtime
Allium tricoccum aka ramps are harbingers of true spring. Seeing ramps finally start to make an appearance just makes it feel like springtime. Ramps go by many names -- wild leeks, wild onions, spring onions, and wild garlic. These perennial wild greens taste like a mild onion crossed with garlic. Foraging for ramps, or any other wild edibles, is a great way to get outdoors into the woods and parks.
Responsible and ethical foraging of wild edibles is a must: Ramp seeds take anywhere from 6 to 18 months to germinate. The plants take 5 to 7 years to produce seeds. Over-foraging is a serious concern and we must go into the woods with sustainability principles firmly in mind to ensure that these plants can keep coming back.
General harvest principles state the "2/3 rule" -- or -- no more than 1/3 of a population should be harvested.
I no longer take the entire plant despite how abundant any particular section of ramps may be. I now only harvest the leaves, one or two per plant. The leaves are the best-tasting part of the ramp anyways so you are not losing anything.
I highly recommend this article from Agroforestry Solutions which asks Are Ramps Being Overharvested?
As For Garlic Mustard — Take it, Take it All
Garlic Mustard is insanely invasive and damaging to our native plants.
It's also notoriously difficult to eradicate.
Every part of the garlic mustard plant is edible, from the leaves to roots, and even the seeds in late summer. It smells like — garlicky mustard, shockingly. Crush a leaf between your fingers and the scent is unmistakable.
Unlike wild ramps, you can pretty much go nuts with picking garlic mustard and not worry that you're harming the ecosystem or taking away food from the wildlife.
Ramps and garlic mustard tend to emerge at the same time, and although garlic mustard will stick around throughout the summer months, it is best to harvest it early in the season before it becomes bitter. Test out a leaf for flavour first to see if you even like the taste.
I always find wild ramps and garlic mustard in the same forests which is a bonus.
And the best part is that both of these wild edibles are SO EASY to spot and differentiate from anything else that you practically have to be trying to poison yourself to fail at identifying either of them.
Honestly, if you're new to foraging — start with ramps and/or garlic mustard. Just remember that sustainability is a serious concern with ramps and a free-for-all with the invasive garlic mustard.
When it comes to ramps, there is a poisonous lookalike — the lily-of-the-valley. It's toxic for humans and animals alike.
Luckily only the ramp will smell anything like onion-garlic. The lily will have a pleasant floral scent if in bloom but otherwise, it will just smell of nothing much at all.
In fact, anything you find in the forest that smells like onion/garlic will be edible. There are countless varieties of wild alliums in the forest, ramps are just one very trendy type.
How To Identify & Forage For Wild Ramps
Starting sometime in April until sometime in May (it's weather dependant), Ontario forests will begin to show signs of brilliant green ramps amongst the brown decay of last year's vegetation. Luckily they are easy to identify.
Go to shady hardwood forests with rich, moist soils. Avoid swamps or marshes as ramps cannot survive bogged in water.
Ramps will have 2-3 leaves per plant. The leaves are smooth, broad and richly green in colour.
Stems are usually reddish-burgundy but they can be white-coloured as well.
The bulbs at the end are snowy white and look like onions.
Remember that ramps will always smell like onion. If it does not have an onion odour, do not eat it. It is likely the poisonous lookalike lily-of-the-valley.
See the pictures below for identification purposes, but please remember to only harvest 1-2 leaves from a plant and not the entire thing. It can take decades for a fertile patch of ramps to reestablish itself. Harvesting only the leaves — the best-tasting part of the plant — and leaving the bulbs alone is the responsible thing to do for every forager.
Foraging Book Recommendations
This is the book I started foraging with and most everything is applicable to Southern Ontario. I still use it to this day. Excellent photos and descriptions. Full of information. I never leave home without it.
Cooking & Eating Ramps
Ramps are versatile and delicious. Treat them like spinach. Ramps can be eaten raw (like in this pesto recipe) or sautéed.
Here are some ideas and pairings:
- Sauté ramps in bacon fat, butter, or olive oil as a quick side dish for anything.
- Pair sauteéd ramps with eggs and hollandaise sauce.
- Make a springtime risotto with chicken stock, asparagus, and ramps. (See my Mastering Risotto article and recipe)
- Make a soup of ramps and seasonal vegetables. (See my Grilled Vegetable Soup Recipe)
- Add ramps to quiches and omelettes.
- Pair with salmon and poached eggs.
- Make cheesy biscuits with ramps.
- Add raw to salads (See My Salad of Nasturtium Leaves & Flowers)
It goes on and on. Just enjoy them while they last because once they're gone, that's it until next year.
This pesto recipe incorporates both wild ramps and garlic mustard as they generally come up at the same time. You can omit one or the other. The addition of basil really makes for a more complex flavour. Use pine nuts or walnuts or even pistachios.
Enjoy this Spring Pesto Recipe of Wild Ramps, Garlic Mustard, & Basil with pasta, gnocchi, in cold pasta salads, on nut and seed crackers, on eggs, with grilled meats and seafood — however you enjoy pesto. It's flavourful, refreshing, yet hearty and can be used in so many ways.Print
Spring Pesto Recipe of Wild Ramps, Garlic Mustard, & Basil
Spring Pesto Recipe of Wild Ramps, Garlic Mustard, & Basil.
I highly recommend a traditional mortar and pestle anytime you're making pesto. A food processor can easily turn the ingredients bitter.
- A mortar & pestle
- 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup of pine nuts (or walnuts)
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1-cups fresh wild ramp leaves
- 1/2 cup of fresh garlic mustard leaves (optional)
- 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup of high-quality olive oil
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- add your pine nuts into the mortar, pound gently until no discernible individual pieces remain.
- Add the garlic and keep pounding until a paste is formed.
- Add the basil leaves, the ramps, the garlc mustard and a nice pinch of sea salt. Keep pounding until the greens completely disintegrate into the rest of the ingredients.
- Once a thick paste has formed, add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, a crack of fresh black pepper, and stir well to combine.
- Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.